‘Poll code review urgent, why take long time to dispose of complaints?’ : The Tribune India

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‘Poll code review urgent, why take long time to dispose of complaints?’

Ashok Lavasa, former Election Commissioner

‘Poll code review urgent, why take long time to dispose of complaints?’

The ongoing Lok Sabha elections have witnessed complaints regarding delays in the publication of voter turnout data across phases and disposal of model code of conduct violation complaints, including hate speeches and communal rhetoric, by star campaigners. Aditi Tandon speaks to former Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa to understand nuances of the issue and the way forward. Excerpts:

Normally a system is in place at the Election Commission of India to give an exact number of votes polled within any polling station within 48 or 72 hours of polling. I cannot understand or speculate on the reasons why it took so much time to share elementary data.

Sections of political and civil society are concerned about delayed publication of final voter turnout data for phase 1 (after 11 days) and phase 2 (after four days). Your take?

My firm belief is that these apprehensions exist only in the absence of data. When you have transparency, doubts disappear. There’s no room in the system to manipulate voter turnout data.

How long should it take for the EC to publish final voting statistics; what causes delays?

There will clearly be a difference between the first voter turnout figure the EC shares on the day of polling and the final figure it publishes later. The first day data doesn’t capture service voters, postal ballots, numbers of persons allowed to cast votes from locations other than polling stations and votes of people on election duty. But normally a system is in place at the EC to give an exact number of votes polled within any polling station within 48 or 72 hours of polling.

How do you see an 11-day delay?

I can’t understand or speculate on reasons why it took so much time but a system exists that allows EC to share elementary data — registered voters in a constituency, votes cast and voting percentage — within 48 to 72 hours. Apprehensions people have — that may be arising only because the data has not been made available — are not well founded. The system has enough cross checks.

What are these cross-checks?

After the poll is over, the presiding officer at the polling station fills Form 17C which is the account of votes cast on the day of polling. This is filled in duplicate. An attested copy is given to the candidate or their agents. So candidates know the number of votes cast. The other form is deposited with the returning officer and stored in the strong room along with the EVM. It is opened along with the EVM at the time of counting and anyone can cross check if the number of votes cast is in accordance with the form given to the candidate. Form 17C has legal validity. After the close of poll, returning officers receive Form 17Cs from all polling stations. The next day the poll station presiding officer’s diary is scrutinized. Candidates can flag irregularities at this stage. After this scrutiny, ROs send reports to the EC indicating if a repoll is needed or not. It is now that the EC can share the accurate number of votes polled.

The EC says all data is in the public domain.

The EC has the elementary data -- registered voters in a constituency, absolute numbers of votes cast, voting percentage. Argument given is that data is available in the public domain but then someone will have to calculate it to arrive at a number. Also state chief election officers don’t use standard formats to fill data. Since transparency is essential for trust and EC has the bare data, they should publish it.

How do you see delays in disposing of complaints of model code of conduct violations by star campaigners?

It doesn’t make any sense if you are going to take a decision after 20 days because by then the purpose may be defeated. If there’s a violation EC gives a notice to the person concerned, 48 to 72 hours to respond and takes a decision either way.

Is there no timeline to dispose of MCC complaints?

The MCC requires an urgent review to incorporate timelines for disposal, description of the nature of action the EC will take such maximum punishment and consequences of those decisions. This will reduce the discretionary element. The MCC currently is just a code of dos and don’ts. I had recommended such a review when I was at the EC.

Starting March 1, the EC has started sending notices to party leaders for MCC violations by star campaigners.

Even in the case of star campaigners, notice should be sent to the person alleged to have committed the violation. In both cases, parties should also be made liable.

For recent MCC violations, EC didn't send notices to Prime Minister and Congress MP Rahul Gandhi but to their party chiefs?

Notices should have gone to the leaders violating the MCC. That is the spirit of MCC.

#Lok Sabha

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