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For voters’ safety, election commission may drop indelible ink in Maoist areas

Maoists are opposed to the electoral process and have in the past attacked people who voted. The use of indelible ink makes it easy to identify people who turned up at the polling booths to exercise their franchise.

chhattisgarh elections 2018 Updated: Oct 14, 2018 07:12 IST
Smriti Kak Ramchandran
Smriti Kak Ramchandran
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Election Commission,Indelible ink,Assembly polls
The semi-permanent ink is applied to the forefinger of electors to prevent them from voting more than once under rules mandated by the ECI . The stain lasts several days before starting to fade. (AP File Photo)

Concerned about possible reprisals by Maoist rebels against voters in the November assembly polls, the Chhattisgarh election office has asked the Election Commission of India (ECI) to consider relaxing a rule requiring the use of indelible ink in areas where the rebels are active.

The semi-permanent ink is applied to the forefinger of electors to prevent them from voting more than once under rules mandated by the ECI . The stain lasts several days before starting to fade.

Chhattisgarh has 14 areas where left-wing extremists are active. According to officials aware of the development, the chief election officer of Chhattisgarh has asked the commission to take a call on whether the use of the ink could be discontinued in these areas. “ The EC is expected to take a call on whether this suggestion can be accepted and relay the same to the law ministry. If it is found tenable, then it will require a change in section 49(K) of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961,” said an official, requesting anonymity.

Maoists are opposed to the electoral process and have in the past attacked people who voted. The use of indelible ink makes it easy to identify people who turned up at the polling booths to exercise their franchise.

Polling to pick a new assembly in Chhattisgarh will be conducted in two phases. On November 12, polling will be held in 18 constituencies that are located in areas under the grip of left-wing extremism (LWE).

The remaining 72 constituencies will go to the polls on November 20.

“Threats are issued to locals in LWE areas to boycott the elections, failing which the Maoists threaten to chop off their fingers if they are found with ink marks. Voters whose fingers are marked with the indelible ink are vulnerable to attacks,” the official cited above said.

This is not the first time that such a request has been made; similar concerns were put forth by the election officials of the state ahead of the 2013 assembly polls as well as the 2014 general election. However, both times the indelible ink that is made by Mysore Paints and Varnish Limited was used.

Former chief election commissioner HS Brahma said the issue was very sensitive; it may not be feasible to discontinue the use of indelible ink as it is the only sure-shot way of ensuring that no bogus voting takes place, he said.

“It will be very difficult and not advisable to change the rules at the last minute, especially since there is no foolproof alternative to using the ink,” he said.

The ECI?has put forth the argument that doing away with use of indelible ink may jeopardise free and fair elections, although it says that the safety of voters, and polling officials and security forces deputed at election time, is paramount.

“There could be bogus voting, for instance, in which case the real voters will be denied a chance to exercise their franchise. There are several such concerns that the EC will have to consider,” the official quoted above said.

The eight most affected LWE districts in the state are Kanker, Rajnandgaon, Kondagaon, Narayanpur, Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada and Sukma.

Mahasamund, Dhamtari, Balod, Gariyahand, Kabirdham and Balrampur are also designated LWE districts.

In 2013, there were 58 incidents of Maoist violence during elections in Chhattisgarh, which left three security force personnel dead; five polling stations were attacked.

In the 2008 assembly polls, 23 electronic voting machines were looted and 122 incidents of violence took place. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, 18 electronic voting machines were looted and there were 144 incidents of violence.

First Published: Oct 14, 2018 07:10 IST