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Poll phases in Kashmir to be challenging yet adequate arrangements in place: CEO Pole

'Definitely, the valley's parliamentary constituencies have more security related issues.'
01:12 AM Apr 25, 2024 IST | SHUCHISMITA
poll phases in kashmir to be challenging yet adequate arrangements in place  ceo pole
Mir Imran/GK

Jammu, Apr 24: Jammu and Kashmir Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) P K Pole has stated that the poll phases in parliamentary constituencies of (Kashmir) valley, given security related issues, will be more challenging as compared to (those of) Jammu yet adequate arrangements are in place to tackle those challenges.


In an exclusive interview with ‘Greater Kashmir’, CEO, however, points out that the nature of challenges actually varies from constituency to constituency, hence every phase has (had) its peculiar issues to address.


According to him, in the case of Jammu region, at least, in the case of phase-I, which is over and phase-II, for which polling is scheduled on April 26, 2024, there have not been so many challenges.

“Comparatively Kashmir parliamentary constituencies will be more challenging but we’re well prepared to ensure peaceful polling in a transparent manner,” he asserts.


Pole affirms that the Election department, in perfect synergy with the security agencies, has made all the desired arrangements to address any kind of challenge, be it related to security, terrain or vagaries of weather.


Following are the excerpts from the interview wherein CEO Pole gives a detailed account of vigorous efforts of the Election department and other agencies to ensure ongoing parliamentary elections as a seamless, credible, transparent democratic exercise for all the stakeholders, particularly for the electorate:



GK: How will you describe the first phase of the parliamentary polls which has been successfully completed on April 19, 2024?

CEO: Election process for first phase has been completed peacefully as per norms of Election Commission. In the first phase of polling for Udhampur parliamentary constituency, around 16.23 lakh electors had enrolled and 2637 polling booths were established in five districts.

GK: During the General Elections 2024, many ‘firsts’ have been introduced. So how is this election different from the previous elections?

CEO: Yes, that is true. But this is not the first time. This has always been an endeavour on the part of the Election Commission of India (ECI) over the years and they bring new interventions in every election. With a vision to improve and augment the process, they (ECI) minutely and persistently scrutinise electoral exercise and take notice of scope for improvement. So wherever in the past electoral exercises, it notices some discrepancies or finds a room for improvement, it does everything possible to make it a seamless exercise and enhances experience in the next election. Thus, every election vis-a-vis the past elections is different, on many accounts.

Following the same exercise (to adopt improved rather best, up-to-date, innovative practices), in 2024 elections, some novel additions have been made or new practices have been introduced e.g., National Level Master Trainings; State Level Master Trainings. Difference is that this has been made an institutionalised training. Earlier, trainers used to be trained only when the electoral exercise would begin. Process (Training) would end with the culmination of the election process. But now as they have attained the status of institutionalised persons, they will keep themselves abreast with the changes. They will be almost like permanent institutions.

GK: Will this training go on throughout the year?

CEO: See, like they may not be doing (or imparting) training in Jammu and Kashmir but somewhere else, there may be elections – assembly, Councils etc. They will participate in the training. They will do the training there also. They are National Level Master Trainers.

Secondly, with regard to new interventions, this time, many new (advanced) technologies are being used. Like earlier, there would be only C-Vigil where citizens could lodge their grievances. But now, even the candidates and political parties too don’t need to visit government offices to seek permissions. They apply on “Suvidha” app and procure permissions.

Then, the specially-abled persons, if they have to enquire about the facilities available in the polling stations for them or if they have to get their disability marked in the (electoral) rolls, they can easily do so by using “Saksham” app.

In addition, there is a Voter Turnout app to facilitate media persons. Like earlier they (media persons) had to visit offices to get updates on voter turnout but now every two-hourly voter turnout, assembly-wise, would be available on this app on a real-time basis. Similarly, there’s a voter helpline app. So, the Commission has started using a number of apps, portals and technology for updating the entire electoral process; enhancing the experience and facilitating all stakeholders.

GK: What have been your major challenges while making poll related arrangements so far, in terms of security or otherwise? Particularly, when Rajouri and Poonch in Jammu region too have witnessed an uptick in terror related incidents in the recent past.

CEO: Basically, in the case of Jammu division, prevalence of militancy is not much there, in comparative terms. Especially, at least, in the case of phase-I and phase-II (areas), there have not been so many challenges here, until now. Still, from our side, all desired preparations have been made.

If you talk of challenges, their nature varies from place to place and phase to phase. There are varied challenges we encounter at different places.

In the case of Kashmir, you don't have terrain-related challenges. You don't have connectivity issues there. But in the case of Udhampur-Kathua-Doda parliamentary constituency, which went to polls in phase-I on April 19, there were many terrain-related issues e.g., treacherous hilly terrains, narrow roads, new roads (being constructed under PMGSY). In several areas, our (polling) parties had to trek several kilometers to reach designated polling stations. In Kishtwar district, in areas like Marwah, Warwan and Dachchan, we had to airlift polling teams.

But we tried to address all these challenges in a proper manner.

In terms of security-related challenges, the concerned (security) agencies make all the desired arrangements.

Everything I cannot divulge regarding preparations, related to security. Yet with regard to the ensuing phases, in the case of Kashmir, I'll say that sufficient arrangements have been made. Adequate deployment (of security forces) will be made.

In any case, deployment of security forces varies from (parliamentary) constituency to constituency; area to area. As we proceed from first phase to second phase and then the next, deployment is made (phase-wise), as per the requirement of that very particular constituency, keeping in view its (security-related) requirements.

GK: As per its requisition, has J&K been provided with security forces for adequate deployment in sensitive areas, in terms of security?

CEO: That aspect is mainly taken care of by the Police department.

GK: There was a direction that Booth Level Officers (BLOs) will distribute voter (information) slips, five to six days before the polling date to facilitate them (voters) in tracking their polling station and serial numbers in the lists. But in the first phase, there had been complaints that these slips were not issued in time. Many voters did not get it.

CEO: See, there may be little confusion in understanding the perspective. Voter Information slip is not in lieu of the EPIC (Elector's Photo Identity Card). Slip is just to inform the voter about the polling station, timing of polling and (voter's) serial number in the voter list. For voting, the voters have to carry either a voter-card (EPIC) or one of alternate twelve documents specified (which have a photograph of the voter). Since voter information slip does not have a photograph, it does not verify the identity of the voter.

GK: There were few complaints related to the first-time voters as their names were not there in the voter lists, they were not allowed to vote.

CEO: As CEO, I may not be in a position to comment on a particular case without knowing the facts. However, if it pertained to the first-time voters, who would have turned 18 on April 1, 2024, they would not get their EPIC immediately. It will take some time to get EPIC. But that does not mean that they are prevented from voting. They can show any of the remaining twelve documents including Aadhaar card; PAN card; driving licence; school/colleges' Identity Card and they can cast votes provided their names figure in the voter list.

If their names are not there in the voter list it means they would not have turned 18 on April 1, 2024.

As per new provisions, now one can apply for a voter card in advance. Suppose if I'm going to turn 18 on September 29, 2024, I can apply in advance, even right now. My application (for EPIC) will become eligible on October 1, 2024. There are quarterly eligibility dates.

GK: In your perspective as in-charge of the poll process in J&K, which is going to be the most challenging phase?

CEO: Definitely, the valley's parliamentary constituencies have more security related issues.

GK: Are all three (Kashmir) valley constituencies equally challenging?

CEO: I cannot exactly tell this as I don’t have a yardstick to measure that. But the valley, definitely, comparatively would be more challenging than Jammu. But we’re well prepared to tackle all challenges.

GK: In the first phase, capricious weather had been a major challenge. It may be a challenge in upcoming phases as well, so, how you are handling vagaries of weather to ensure that they don’t impact seamless electoral exercise.

CEO: Yes, that’s true. Weather was pretty bad in the first phase at several places. We get hourly weather inputs which we pass on to the ground level (polling teams at the ground level) to tweak the arrangements accordingly to ensure that electoral exercise remains a seamless affair.

GK: Did weather impact first phase polling?

CEO: Not that much. But definitely, it does cause inconvenience but as far as poll percentage is concerned, no major impact has been there.

But I definitely want to express my gratitude to the voters of the first parliamentary constituency as they came forward despite inclement weather and exercised their right to vote in such a large percentage.

Also, I express my gratitude to the polling staff as they performed their duties diligently in more than 2600 polling stations despite hostile weather conditions.

GK: Major concern of all political parties and politicians, mainly those belonging to the opposition, has been with regard to the level-playing field. ECI and even you, as J&K CEO have reiterated commitment to ensure it (level-playing field). What are the specific measures taken by you to ensure it? How many grievances have you received on this account?

CEO: See the first and foremost measure on this account is to give them (candidates) different permissions.  So, we are giving permissions on a 'First come, first serve' basis. Further to facilitate them, they have to give online applications on Suvidha (portal) app.

Whenever a candidate files an application, it (app) displays the exact time (of filing an application). Therefore, none can say the administration has not allowed his or her application to give precedence to someone else.

For example, there is some ground and two or more candidates want to hold an election rally there on a particular date. So, permission will be granted to the person, who applies first on 'Suvidha', irrespective of the fact that the candidate is from a national party or a state party or for that matter an independent. This is the first thing (measure).

Secondly, all candidates have been provided with the security. They may be independent or the nominees of state or national parties.

Third thing (measure) is - all the rules and regulations like under MCC (Model Code of Conduct) and others are applied equally.

Even during phase-I, we have issued notices to the candidates (or parties) who have violated it (rules). We have not seen whether the party is a national party or state party or the candidate is independently contesting.

GK: How many complaints or grievances have you received?

CEO: More than 75 grievances, we have received on c-Vigil app related to MCC violations. Notices are issued by the concerned Deputy Commissioners (DEOs).

GK: During these elections, flag or route marches, being conducted by the police along with other security forces, are being seen as a noteworthy step. What is the significance of this measure? How is it crucial to the election process?

CEO: See, these are part of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) taken by the police (law enforcement). CBMs are of varied nature. Like, a senior police officer holds a public meeting to listen to their (people's) security related grievances and tries to address them. So, a police-public meeting is one of the ways of Confidence Building Measures.

Second way is flag marches. These generate confidence among people that the forces are nearby. They are visible. Whenever the need arises, they will be there; they will reach in time.

Thirdly, they (police and other security forces) take many preventive actions like the past offenders are bound down under 107/109 provisions of CrPC.

In the rarest of rare cases, preventive detentions are made. They all come under preventive measures. Similarly, if there are local arms licences, they are asked to deposit to prevent their misuse (during election process.

Police do undertake various measures for building confidence among the public and one of these measures is flag marches.

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