Poll panel team to visit Telangana for election preparedness (Lead)

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New Delhi : Apparently preparing to hold early polls in Telangana along with four other states in December, the Election Commission on Friday decided to send a team of officials to Hyderabad on September 11 for making an assessment of the poll preparedness of the machinery in the state where the ruling party has sought early elections by dissolving the assembly.

The decision was taken at a full meeting of the commission chaired by Chief Election Commissioner O.P. Rawat.

An official press note issued after the meeting said: "In view of the dissolution of the state legislative assembly of Telangana, the commission has decided to send a team of ECI officials to assess the situation in the state regarding poll preparedness. A team of ECI officials headed by Umesh Sinha, Senior Deputy Election Commissioner, will be visiting Hyderabad on Tuesday, 11 September 2018 and will give the report to the election commission after the completion of the visit."

Rawat appeared to hint at the possibility of holding Assembly elections in Telangana along with the polls due in four other states in December this year.

After the meeting, he said the commission would review the ground-level status with the Chief Electoral Officer of Telangana and make up its mind about the timing of elections to be announced in due course.

"Whenever House is dissolved prematurely, as per Supreme Court guidelines laid down in 2002, the ECI is required to initiate immediate steps for holding elections for constituting the legislative Assembly on the first occasion and in any case, within six months from the date of premature dissolution of the assembly," he said.

However, ahead of the meeting he said it could be difficult if more states decide to go for early polls in view of the difficulties in logistics.

"The Supreme Court has ruled clearly that in case of the House dissolution, polls should be held on the first occasion because caretaker governments cannot continue and get the advantage. You cannot dissolve the House and continue for six months as a caretaker government," Rawat told media hours before the Commission's meeting on the demand for an early election following the dissolution of the Telangana Assembly on Thursday.

"Elections have to be held as soon as possible. A decision will be taken keeping in mind various court rulings on the issue and prevailing ground reality," the CEC said, adding that the Commission holds polls within the legal framework to ensure they are free, fair and credible.

Assembly elections are due in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram later this year. The term of the Telangana Assembly was ending on June 19, 2019 but the Telangana Rashtra Samiti government chose to dissolve it, seeking early polls.

Citing the malfunctioning of the VVPAT (voter verifiable paper audit trail) machines during the recent by-polls in many places, he said the Commission was working to fix the problem.

"We are facing one constraint as of now. In many places during the by-polls the VVPAT malfunctioned, somewhere the complaints were about 5 per cent, eight per cent and 11 per cent. The technical committee of the Commission is working to fix the problem in the VVPAT after doing the root analysis of the problem," he said.

He also said that the Commission would get the electronic voting machines (EVMs) by September 30 and the VVPATs by November 30. "And as the Commission has committed in the all-party meeting that the elections would be held with the VVPATs... so the elections that are possible within the VVPAT numbers, it won't be any issue for us.

"But as you are saying that this (demand for early polls in other states) may spread like an infection, then there will be some problem," Rawat said.

The CEC also said that as per the Constitution and the Supreme Court ruling, "it is clear that any constitutional institution cannot claim impossible as possible. And as I said if there is any resource constraint then we shall explain it clearly that we are resource-constrained."