Wednesday, May 21, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Curfew-like conditions in Fatehabad
1.50 lakh voters to exercise franchise today
Yoginder Gupta and Sushil Manav
Tribune News Service

Fatehabad, May 20
Byelections on May 21About 1.50 lakh voters of the Fatehabad Assembly constituency will exercise their right to franchise under curfew-like conditions tomorrow. The administration has banned the movement of all private and unauthorised vehicles throughout the constituency from dawn to dusk, even on National Highway No 10, passing through Fatehabad town.

Mobile phone services will remain suspended in the constituency from midnight tonight till 7 p.m. tomorrow.

The administration initially refused to issue vehicle-movement permits to even those newspersons who had been issued authority letters to enter any polling booth in the constituency to judge for themselves if the polling was free and fair. It offered to pack the newspersons in one or two buses like sardines and take them to various places in the constituency.

However, the newspersons declined the offer and threatened to surrender the authority letters issued by the Election Commission as these letters would have been rendered meaningless by the administration’s offer. The newspersons said they were not willing to testify to the fairness or otherwise of the polling on the basis of a “conducted tour” arranged by the administration.

The Election Commission’s observer for Fatehabad, Mr Rama Raman, who was approached by the newspersons to help them discharge their professional duties, was of the view that the journalists having the authority letters from the commission need not get vehicle permits from the Returning Officer to move in the constituency. He said the authority letters should be considered as the vehicle permits. He promised to speak to the administration in this regard. However, till the evening the administration was adamant on its stand.

The matter was brought to the notice of the Chief Electoral Officer, Haryana, Mrs Urvashi Gulati, by the newspersons. It was only after her intervention that the administration relented.

When a similar stand was taken by the Ambala police in 1993 at the time of the Kalka Assembly byelection, in which Mr Chander Mohan, the elder son of the then Chief Minister, Mr Bhajan Lal, was a candidate, the Indian National Lok Dal (the present-day ruling party) had raised a hue and cry and described the step as an attack on the freedom of the Press and an attempt to keep the election under a cloak.

The confusion about Mr Raman’s order asking the administration to ensure that no outsider who had come to Fatehabad remained here after 5 p.m. on May 19 continued to prevail. The Haryana Congress President, Mr Bhajan Lal, and the Haryana Vikas Party President, Mr Bansi Lal, had met him in protest against the order on the plea that the administration would use his order against them.

After this Mr Raman said he had modified his order and had now asked the administration to check and isolate anti-social elements only. However, the district police told TNS that it would not allow any outsider to remain in Fatehabad tomorrow. An “outsider” means, according to the police, “who is not a voter in the constituency”. However, political parties are not in a mood to oblige the police.

Interestingly, when the Election Commission had banned the entry of the Chief Minister, Mr Om Prakash Chautala, into Haryana during the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, a writ was filed in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, challenging the commission’s directions on the plea that it was an infringement on one’s fundamental right of freedom to movement. The high court had disapproved the commission’s directions.

The Director-General of Police, Haryana, Mr M.S. Malik, who supervised the security arrangements here today, said the code of conduct and other instructions issued by the Election Commission would be strictly enforced. About 1,750 policemen would be on duty.

He said no vehicle would be allowed to enter the Fatehabad constituency from 6 am to 6 pm. Traffic on National Highway No 10 coming from Hisar towards Sirsa would be diverted from Khara-Kheri to Bhattu. Traffic coming from Sirsa towards Hisar would be diverted from Ding, Bhattu and Khara-Kheri. Traffic coming from Kaithal towards Sirsa would be diverted from Surewala Chowk to Tohana, Kullan, Ratia and Sardulgarh in Punjab. However, ambulances would be allowed to ply. The SP, Traffic, he said, had been asked to ensure the diversion of traffic.

Mr Malik said nakas had been set up on approach roads of all villages. Each naka would be under the charge of a non-gazetted officer. The nakas would be equipped with wireless sets. Each booth would be guarded by five policemen, whose strength would be doubled at hypersensitive booths. The IG, Hisar Range, Mr Resham Singh, would be the overall in charge of the security in the constituency.

The District Election Officer, Dr R.B. Langyan, said 835 personnel would be deputed on polling duty. These would include 37 magistrates. Each booth would be equipped with a wireless set so that in case of any emergency, the polling staff would be able to inform their sector magistrate immediately.

The polling would be held between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. 

Holiday today

Chandigarh, May 20
The Haryana Government has notified that May 21 will be a closed day for all shops, commercial establishments and factories in the Fatehabad Assembly constituency in view of the byelection in the constituency on that day.


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