CHENNAI: In poll bound states, including Tamil Nadu, the Central police forces would play a greater role as part of measures to ensure fair polls and to see that no one took any undue advantage, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said here on Thursday.
Several measures were being contemplated to ensure inducement free, fair elections to the Tamil Nadu Assembly in view of allegations of inducement of voters in the past and two Special Expenditure Observers would also be deputed, he said.
The bypoll to the Kanyakumari Lok Sabha seat would be held alongside Assembly polls, he said.
The seat fell vacant following the death of Congress MP, H Vasanthakumar due to COVID-19 last year.
The top Election Commission official, wrapping up meetings with senior officials and representatives of political parties here along with his colleagues, expressed confidence of a free, fair and transparent elections.
In keeping with the best administrative traditions of Tamil Nadu, there shall be no ‘Vellores and RK Nagars,’ he said in an apparent reference to allegations of distribution of cash to voters and the EC’s measures to prevent such attempts.
It has been decided that for all the five poll bound states including Tamil Nadu, the Central Armed Police Forces coordinator shall be at the apex level of a committee that allocated personnel from one place to the other, Arora said addressing a press conference.
Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Assam and the Union Territory of neighbouring Puducherry are likely to go to polls in April or May.
The official said that at the district level, the senior most general observer would be part of the exercise on allocation of personnel.
“This is a major decision we have already taken. It will be formally conveyed to the Chief Electoral Officers in the next two to three days maximum.”
The decision follows feedback from political parties and a ‘complaint’ that the personnel were deployed by the state governments “wherever they like,” he noted.
The Commission is trying to put more forces in every state and the coordinator of the Central forces have been assigned a greater role to play in terms of both deployment and allocation of personnel so that no one took any undue advantage when it came to exercise of franchise through postal ballots, he said.
Referring to a high level meeting today with Central and state regulatory agencies, answering a question, he said the EC has emphasised a lot about measures to ensure inducement free polls.
“There are several things we are planning to do and we shall do, but I am sorry to say that it will not be possible for me to share a lot of things in public domain…because we have given instructions and we shall be conducting another meeting with senior officers and enforcement agencies after a week or 10 days virtually to review as to what is the outcome of the meeting we held today.”
The EC is sensitive to alleged inducements, he asserted and recalled cancellation of polls to Vellore Parliamentary Constituency (2019) and bypolls to RK Nagar Assembly segment (2017), the ‘harshest’ action taken by the commission in any state in respect of such allegations.
On special observers, he said, “because of money factor of inducement in Tamil Nadu, besides the normal observers we send, we have decided to send Special Expenditure Observers (SEO).”
This would be in addition to district observers, he noted.
Such SEOs shall be noted for their integrity and would be of the rank of retired secretaries of the Centre and also former chaipersons of the Central Board of Direct Taxes.
There shall be at least two SEOs and one of them shall be a very senior person for guidance for Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
The exercise of deputing SEOs was being done on a state to state basis and not followed necessarily eveywhere while in some states, the special focus would be on law and order front.
The top official expressed displeasure over the work by some regulatory arms of the Tamil Nadu government ahead of the notification of state polls.
“When we had the meeting of the regulatory agencies, I must say we were quite unhappy with the overall performance of the state excise department as well as the Special DG enforcement. We have brought the relevant facts to the notice of the Chief Secretary.”
Since the state has excise revenue of Rs 34,000 crore, he said, “we felt that much more could have been done” vis-a- vis matters like the kind of seizures done.
“…how many decimal points you have to put after the zero, the honourable excise commissioner was not even able to calculate it.”
He said the EC was very disappointed about not apprehending the ‘big fish’.
On this matter, he said they were apprised that during enforcement in a particular seizure of almost Rs two crore, the authorities registered 23,000 to 27,000 cases.
It meant that these were against the “small guys, some drivers, some couriers, the foot soldiers who were being caught and not the big fish.”
The EC has sought a special report on this matter from the Additional Chief Secretary Home who also looked after the Finance Department, he noted.
From the previous 68,324 polling stations in Tamil Nadu, there would be 25,000 more now as per the norms to prevent spread of COVID-19 and in total there shall be 93,000 booths, he said adding it also meant mobilisation of more men and materials.
As regards arrangements for procurement of COVID-19 related materials, the state Chief Secretary has assured that these would be available on time.
Asked on likelihood of TN elections being held in April or May and if polls would be conducted in a single phase, he said these would be made known later at the time of announcement of elections.