SEC gears to advance Bihar panchayat poll schedule by holding election from August
The State Election Commission (SEC), mandated to hold the panchayat polls in Bihar, is all set to advance the schedule of holding the election to the three-tier local bodies by starting the poll process from August so that the exercise could be completed by October end, officials said.
People privy to the development in the SEC said that the first phase of the panchayat polls would start from the end of August and the rest of the phases of the ten-phased polls would be conducted till October end.
“We are going to start the panchayat poll process from August. The poll process would be completed by October. We are working in this direction,” said secretary, SEC, Yogendra Ram.
Officials said reports from district magistrates are being sought to finalise the schedule of poll dates and a proposal in this regard would be sent to the state government soon for cabinet approval following which the notification of the poll process would be done.
The panchayat polls, scheduled to be held in March and April, were deferred owing to the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and litigation over the non-availability of electronic voting machines. The Election Commission of India (ECI) has already given the nod for use of single post EVMs (M2 model) in the forthcoming panchayat polls, the first such exercise to be conducted in local bodies elections in Bihar.
The SEC, in last few weeks, has also worked on the strategy of holding polls in flood-prone areas in the last few phases depending on the severity of floods usually experienced in north Bihar districts in July and August, a departure from its previous planning to hold the polls after the rainy season in September.
“If in case, there are floods in some districts or blocks, we will hold the polls there in the last few phases. We have already asked the DMs to identify such blocks which are flood-prone or quite remote where accessibility is difficult,” said another SEC official.
On Saturday, SEC officials held a video conferencing with all district magistrates to take stock of the ongoing process to requisition electronic voting machines (EVMs) from different states, polling stations and the process of first level checking of EVMs.
Sources said the SEC has set the target of completing the process of first level checking of EVMs by mid-July and already tagged nodal officers from districts to get the EVMs from different states in the next couple of weeks.
The SEC has assessed that around 8.5 lakh EVMs would be required for multi-phase polls having a total number of 1.15 lakh polling stations and around six crore electorate. A total of 2.58 lakh posts in the three-tier local bodies, including gram kutcheries, would be elected in the polls.
At present, all the three-tier local bodies are being run through advisory committees following an ordinance brought to empower such bodies for six months as an arrangement to run the local self-government institutions after their five-year term ended on June 15 this year.
Meanwhile, additional chief secretary, panchayati raj department, Amrit Lal Meena, said that a decision on holding the polls and finalization of dates has to be done by the SEC.
Vaccination for panchayat members to be voluntary. The SEC will be issuing an advisory to all those participating in the panchayat polls, including candidates, to get Covid-19 vaccines instead of making jabs of the coronavirus disease mandatory for the aspiring candidates or those seeking re-election, as proposed by the panchayat raj department minister Samrat Choudhary.
The reason is said to be legal issues as a mandatory provision for those contesting polls would require necessary provisioning of rules in the Bihar panchayat election rules, 2006.
Officials said the poll panel also has taken into account the fact that the entire vaccination drive in the country is a voluntary exercise where both state and central government are appealing to people to get the jabs.
“We are already asking the DMs and field officers engaged in panchayat polls to create awareness among the rural population to get Covid vaccines so that they are safe and protected when they participate in the polls. We are hopeful the vaccination drive already underway would cover a large section of the population, especially in rural areas ahead of the polls,” said SEC, secretary Yogendra Ram.
A few weeks back, panchayati raj department minister Choudhary advocated that the SEC should consider making Covid-19 vaccination mandatory for all those keen on contesting polls reasoning that it would give a fillip to the vaccination drive in rural areas where vaccine hesitancy is rampant, and also help in inoculating a large section of the state’s population in next few months.