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Electoral rolls, not NRC, to determine voters in Assam: EC

GUWAHATI: The Election Commission of India (ECI) made it clear on Wednesday that those living in Assam whose names are missing from the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC), but are listed in the electoral rolls can vote in the assembly elections due in April-May this year
PUBLISHED ON JAN 21, 2021 12:14 AM IST

GUWAHATI: The Election Commission of India (ECI) made it clear on Wednesday that those living in Assam whose names are missing from the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC), but are listed in the electoral rolls can vote in the assembly elections due in April-May this year.

“A union home ministry notification dated August 29, 2019 clearly stated {that} non-inclusion of a person’s name in NRC doesn’t amount to him/her being declared a foreigner. By implication, such persons remain in voters’ list and shall be eligible to vote until a decision is taken by the concerned tribunal,” said Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sunil Arora.

Around 1.9 million (of 33 million applicants) were left out of the updated NRC published for Assam on Augst 31, 2019. The NRC was a list intended to identify legal residents and weed out illegal immigrants from Assam. Those left out of the updated NRC were given the option of appealing to foreigners’ tribunals.

“The NRC is yet to be notified and several matters related to it are still pending in Supreme Court. Hence, there no question of our party reacting to the CEC’s remarks on allowing those left out of the NRC to vote,” said Roopam Goswami, a spokesperson for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“The NRC is yet to be become a legal document hence it is desirable that till it is notified, those left out of it should be allowed to vote. But we also want that the updated NRC is notified soon as it was one of the promises made by the BJP prior to coming to power in Assam in 2016,” said Debabrata Saikia, leader of the Congress legislature party in the Assam assembly.

NRC is expected to be a poll issue in a state where there has always been a distrust of outsiders.

“There’s no link of NRC with voters’ list as the latter is not updated with inputs from the former. Additionally, the Registrar General of India is yet to notify the updated NRC. So, if those left out of NRC are allowed to vote based on their listing in electoral rolls, there’s nothing to be surprised about,” said Abhijeet Sharma of the Assam Public Works (APW), a Guwahati-based non-government organisation whose petition in the Supreme Court had led to the start of the NRC updating process in 2015.

Arora spoke to reporters in Guwahati on the last day of a three-day visit by a high-level ECI team to the state to take stock of its preparedness for the upcoming polls.

Arora said the election in Assam will be held keeping in mind the Bohag Bihu festival that falls in mid-April and the poll process would be over before May, on the day the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) examination starts.

Because of Covid-19 safety protocols, the ECI has decided to reduce the average number of voters in each polling station from 1,500 to nearly 1,000. This would lead to an increase of around 5,500 polling stations in the state; total number of polling stations could reach 33,000.

“We will be giving Covid-19 kit to polling teams and in order to further decongest polling spaces and allow more free movement of voters, polling time has been increased by one hour,” said Arora.

“Nomination forms and affidavits can be filled by candidates online and print out submitted to returning officers. Security money can also be paid online. Number of persons accompanying candidates at the time of filing of nomination has been restricted to two,” he added.

Door-to-door campaigning will be restricted to five persons, including the candidate. Road shows are allowed subject to a convoy being broken up every half-an-hour. District deputy commissioners will ensure maintenance of social distancing norms at election rallies.

Arora mentioned that discussions are under way to ensure the vaccination of poll officials for Covid-19 before the elections and added that the t law and order situation in Assam was “under control.".

“The voluntary code of ethics agreed upon by social media platforms during interactions with EC would apply to Assam election as well to ensure social media doesn’t play a mischievous role in inciting violence and communal riots,” said Arora.

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