New Delhi: Election Commission on Tuesday released a statement stating that it has taken “exception” to remarks made by Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor G.C. Murmu on the timing of polls in the Union Territory, and added that in the “constitutional scheme of things”, only the EC is authorised to decide on the poll schedule.
It is rare for the poll panel to issue a public statement against another constitutional functionary, as noted by Hindustan Times.
The EC highlighted an interview of Murmu’s, published on Monday on The Tribune, where he said that the J&K assembly election could be held after the delimitation exercise is completed.
“The Election Commission of India has appointed members [of the Delimitation Commission] and also co-opted members. There will be the Census 2021. I don’t know what view they will take.”
The Delimitation Commission was constituted in March of this year to redraw the Lok Sabha and assembly constituencies of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, along with four northeastern states.
It is headed by former Supreme Court judge Ranjana Prakash Desai. Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra and state election commissioners of Jammu and Kashmir are also its ex-officio members.
Delimitation is the process of fixing limits or boundaries of territorial constituencies in a country or a province with a legislative body.
According to section 60 of the J&K Reorganisation Act, “…the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly of Union territory of J&K shall be increased from 107 to 114….” Out of these, 24 seats are in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir. So effectively, the seats will go up from 83 to 90, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora had explained while responding to queries on the delimitation process in J&K.
Assembly elections in Kashmir have not been held ever since the coalition government of the BJP and PDP collapsed in 2018. PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti has been kept in confinement since August 5, 2019, when the Centre read down Article 370, and constituted the UTs of J&K and Ladakh out of a state with special status. She was later slapped with the Public Safety Act.
EC highlights ‘meticulous homework’
The Commission also referred to statements made by the LG to The Hindu, News18, Hindustan Times and Economic Times in November last year and June this year.
“It would be proper for authorities other than the Election Commission to refrain from making such statements which virtually tantamount to interfering with the Constitutional mandate of the Commission,” the statement said.
The poll panel said before deciding the timing, it takes into consideration relevant factors, including topography, weather, sensitivities arising out of regional and local festivities in the areas where the election is to take place.
“For example, in the current times, COVID-19 has introduced a new dynamic, which has to be and shall be taken into consideration at the due time. In the instant case, the outcome of delimitation is also germane to the decision,” the statement said.
Availability of central forces and railway coaches for their transportation are important factors, it said.
“All this is done after meticulous homework by the senior officials of the Commission and a detailed assessment in due consultation with concerned authorities,” it said.
The Commission itself schedules a visit to the concerned state wherever required and holds extensive consultations with all the stakeholders, the statement noted.
The Lieutenant Governor, in an interview to The Sunday Express, had also deviated substantially from the Centre’s official insistence that 4G speeds cannot be restored for “security reasons”, by supporting the restoration of high-speed internet and saying that he is “not afraid how people will use” the internet.
(With PTI inputs)