A majority of returning officers in Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur districts on Tuesday dispatched polling parties to their respective polling booths without ballot papers for conduct of the July 3 panchayat elections.
Official sources said that such polling parties in two districts were asked to timely reach their polling booths on the assurance that the ballot papers would reach them by night. The parties left for the destinatihons concerned by 3 pm.
It’s for the first time in the history of Punjab elections that the polling parties were not given requisite ballot papers before being given marching orders to proceed towards polling booths in a day in advance due to failure of the Punjab State Election Commission to ensure timely supply of such an important instrument of the democracy.
During a round to PS marriage palace on Jalandhar-Hoshiarpur road on Monday midnight, it was revealed that the senior poll officials including several returning officers, Hoshiarpur additional deputy commissioner (ADC) Harbir Singh and Kapurthala ADC Mohammad Iqbal Bhatti were personally supervising the photocopying of ballot papers. The marriage palace was being used to produce ballot papers for Amritsar, Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala and Jalandhar districts since a single vendor was allotted the contract to print the ballots for elections.
On being asked to quote rules under which photocopy of the ballot papers could be used in elections, Bhatti initially evaded a direct reply and said that the photocopying process was being undertaken as per the instructions (of the higher authorities). “I am not aware whether we can photocopy the ballot paper or not. We are just following the instructions,” he quipped. On insistence to specifically comment on the issue, Bhatti said that it was “wrong” to photocopy the ballot paper.
HT lensman Pardeep Pandit captured the shots of private persons engaged in the process sans any security checks at entry and exit gates of marriage palace. Hundreds of ballot papers were found scattered.
On Tuesday, the process to print ballot papers in different parts of Jalandhar district was continuing till 7 pm. “We left with no option but to ask polling parties to reach their destinations without ballot papers. It’s really matter of concern that private printer did not have requisite infrastructure to timely supply the ballots. I have never seen such a dismal scenario during elections in my over 30 years of government service,” a senior poll official in Jalandhar said.
As per norms, polling parties must be given requisite ballot papers along with other poll material before being told to reach polling booth concerned. “To avoid chaos at the offices of the returning officers, we decided to distribute ballots later,” the poll official said.
Hoshiarpur’s ADC Harbir Singh said that the private firm failed to timely supply the ballot papers, thus, leading to chaos. “I will submit a detailed report in this regard to the deputy commissioner for further action against the printer,” he added.
Jalandhar’s ADC Harminder Singh was not available for comments, despite repeated attempts.