Law & order feedback from non-ruling parties, officials led to more phases in Bengal: Sunil Arora, CEC

Having conducted the Lok Sabha elections of 2019 and 14 assembly elections as Chief Election Commissioner of India, Sunil Arora will complete his innings with upcoming assembly polls. In an interview with ET, the CEC explains the reason for a record eight phases in West Bengal elections and talks about the prospect of remote voting in 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Excerpts:

On more phases in West Bengal and Assam

We had effectively seven phases in West Bengal assembly election the last time and seven phases in the Lok Sabha elections as well. There are eight phases this time as time and tide never standstill.

The kind of feedback on law and order that the EC was receiving from its officials, from almost all non-TMC parties, the figures in the National Crime Records Bureau report of 2020 – all these showed a rising trend of hooliganism, lawlessness and even crime, including homicide, etc.

There were somewhat similar reasons for Assam as well…issues of some separatists and factions in some districts.

On TMC aspersions of EC bias

It is very unfortunate. We have no doubt about the fair-mindedness of our deputy election commissioner in question. All our officials try to do their duty as per the tenets of the Constitution of India and the extant laws. They have our full backing. Sometimes there can be an odd black sheep here and there, and then ECI has always taken swift corrective actions and immediately so.

We have, however, also noticed a trend that such complaints become more rampant whenever there is a major election approaching or in process.

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On complaints about the PM’s image on Covid-19 vaccine certificates

Action has already been taken in this regard. (EC has asked the government to stop using Narendra Modi’s photo on vaccine certificates in poll-bound states.)

On money flow in Tamil Nadu and other states

Curbing illegal cash flow is one of the top priorities of the commission in the upcoming elections. Special observers have been appointed, a review meeting was held with the country’s highest finance-related officials, and all agencies are on alert. As of now, a sizable seizure has been effected in a particular state. Besides, we have set up a committee on the larger issue of election expenditure. It has submitted its first report and we will soon have the second report, which we will also discuss with all political parties.

On delays in electoral reforms proposed by EC

I would not use the word delay. This is ‘action in making’. Extending of postal ballot to those above 80 years of age, persons with disabilities and essential services category – this was done within 5-6 weeks. There are still lots of reforms that are desirable, but our utmost priority is the linkage of the EPIC Voter ID with Aadhar. We have held two meetings with the law secretary on this and we are hopeful it will soon see the light of day.

On remote voting for migrants

EC is quite clear that this will see the light of day before the Lok Sabha election or probably even earlier. There is collective thinking on this in the ECI and a team is already working on pilots for it. It is at present at a stage of trial by learning.

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On common electoral roll plans

Under Article 324(1) of the Constitution of India, the electoral roll for all elections to parliament and legislatures of all states are vested with the ECI. The responsibility for electoral rolls of panchayats and local bodies elections rest with state election commissions under Article 243K and 243ZA of the Constitution. Currently, 33 states are using the ECI roll though in different form and format. EC has been extending its cooperation to SECs as and when required. It will provide all help to SECs to the extent possible for the preparation of electoral roll for the purpose of local bodies election and panchayat election whenever they use ECI electoral roll.

On ‘one nation, one election’ call

The assembly and parliamentary elections cannot be synchronised without amendment to the provisions of Articles 83, 85, 172 and 356, so as to provide that the term of the Lok Sabha and Legislative assemblies may coincide. For this purpose, the existing term of some of the houses will have to be curtailed, as a one-time measure.

On electoral bonds

ECI has taken a clear position. The matter is before the Supreme Court.

Does EC need more teeth?

No institution in the system does not want more power. But I think there is still sufficient teeth, no harm having more teeth.

On Lok Sabha polls 2019 and the tumult in ECI

I will only say what I said at the press conference: ‘Kisi ko hum sukhan hota nahi mehfil me parwana, Unhe baatein nahi aati jo apna kaam karte hein’.

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