Despite a request by the Punjab education department for postponement of the civic body polls, citing the annual exams in schools, the state election commission has announced that the elections would held on February 20 and 25, as per schedule.
As per a notification of the local bodies department, issued on December 16 last year, six municipal corporations would go to the polls on February 20, while polling will be held in 123 municipal councils and notified committees on February 25.
According to state election commissioner Shivinder Singh Brar, the announcement of the poll schedule by his department is expected shortly. He added that as per the Municipal Act, 25 days were required between the announcement and the polling date for making preparations.
Education minister Dr Daljit Singh Cheema said, “The education department informed the department concerned that the polls had been scheduled during the school examinations. The matriculation examinations begin on February 17; the practicals will be held before that. So, we had requested the state election commission to conduct the polls after the examinations end on March 31.”
The civic body polls in Punjab have been due since July 2013, but these are yet to be held due to the delay in the delimitation process. Delimitation takes place every 10 years, coinciding with the population census.
The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), ruling alliance partners in the state, had on November 26 last year decided to contest the polls jointly. The BJP’s state unit leaders had stated that their party would not let the Akalis browbeat its workers this time.
According to political analysts, the SAD is keen on postponement of the polls, whereas the BJP wants these to be held as per schedule. The education portfolio is held by Cheema, an Akali leader, while the local bodies minister is a BJP MLA (Anil Joshi).
Cheema said the education department did not want students’ exam preparations to suffer due to the polls as there would be hectic campaigning in cities and towns of the state. “Never in the past have the civic body polls been held during school examinations,” he said.
Following the request by the education department, the state election commission wrote to the local bodies department, which had issued a notification for the conduct of the polls on February 20 and 25. The latter sought the opinion of the advocate general, who had advised that the polls could not be postponed because an undertaking had already been given in the Punjab and Haryana high court that these would held as per the announced schedule.
“Conducting or postponing the polls is no longer our problem. Our role is to carry out delimitation of wards in the civic bodies and we have completed that. Now, the onus is on the state election commission,” said local bodies minister Anil Joshi.