53. After a careful examination and analysis of the situation obtaining presently in the State of Gujarat, the full Commission has unanimously come to the considered view that it is presently not in a position to conduct a free and fair election in the State. The electoral rolls in the State have become substantially defective in view of the large-scale displacement of electors in the wake of the communal riots and violence in the months of February, March, April 2002 etc. and their failure to return to their places of ordinary residence where they have been registered as electors. Also, the law and order situation cannot be said to have become normal as fear in the minds of large sections of the electorate, particularly of the minority community, is still a palpable reality and the riot-victims would be extremely wary of going to the polling stations to cast their votes fearing risk to their life and property. Many others would obviously be physically prevented from going to the polling stations. A situation has thus to be created which would be conducive to the holding of free, fair and peaceful polling in the State.
54. We would like to stress that we have reached the above conclusions only on the basis of the following guiding principles: -
(a) that every vote is a valuable vote and that every voter wanting to participate in the elections should be allowed to vote;
(b) that the elections are conducted in the most conducive conditions so that the "little voter", whatever be his denomination or background, is free to vote;
(c) the election schedule should be announced without any delay at the earliest possible time after ensuring the necessary conditions for proper conduct of elections; and
(d) that all other interests have to be subservient to the democratic values.
55. We do sincerely hope that having regard to the above principles that the period between now and the announcement of the elections will be best used to create such conditions so as to preserve the multiethnic, multireligious and multilingual nature of the polity in the larger interest of democracy and humanity and not used for promoting political acrimony.
Directions of the Commission
56. In order to make the electoral rolls as accurate and up-to-date as humanly possible, the Commission hereby directs under Section 21 (3) of the Representation of the People Act 1950, that a 'special revision' of electoral rolls shall be undertaken in all the 20 districts which have been identified by the State Government as riot-affected areas. For this special revision, the existing electoral rolls which have been finally published on 15.5.2002 will be published as draft electoral rolls on 28.8.2002 (Wednesday) for inviting claims and objections. And for the purpose of inviting claims and objections, a period of three weeks, i.e., upto 18.9.2002 (Wednesday) shall be given. Simultaneously, a house-to-house survey by official enumerators shall be undertaken in all the major cities and towns of the 20 affected districts. Similar exercise of house-to-.38 house verification shall also be undertaken from 28.8.2002 to 18.9.2002 in all the villages of those districts which were affected by the riots. The list of the cities, towns and villages in which house-to-house verification is to be taken up shall be drawn by the Chief Electoral Officer in consultation with the District Election Officers of the concerned districts and other authorities considered relevant/appropriate by him and he shall complete this exercise by 21.8.2002. This will give the district authorities about a week's time for the appointment of enumerators and the supervisors and their training, etc. In such house-to-house verification, the enumerators will repeat the same drill which they undertook last year when the house-to-house visits and verifications were carried out for the purposes of the special revision of intensive nature undertaken in the State with reference to 1.1.2002 as the qualifying date. They will go with the existing electoral rolls and use the same forms for the purposes of inclusions/deletions which were used for the aforesaid last verification. On the basis of this house-to-house verification, the EROs will prepare 3 lists, viz., lists of all deletions, inclusions and corrections in the existing rolls. They will then take appropriate action to delete the names of persons who are dead or who are no longer ordinarily resident in the constituencies under Rule 21 A of the Registration of Electors Rules 1960, and for the inclusion of the names of those who have shifted to their new places of ordinary residence under Rule 21 of the said Rules. They will also simultaneously dispose of the claims and objections received in prescribed Forms 6, 7 and 8 in response to the draft publication of the rolls on 28.8.2002 as directed above. After the remedial action taken in terms of Rules 21 and 21 A of the Registration of Electors Rules 1960 and the disposal of claims and objections received in Forms 6, 7 and 8, the electoral rolls will be finalised and final rolls shall be published on 15.10.2002 (Tuesday)
57. During the course of the house-to-house verification of electors, as directed above, it is quite likely that such of the registered electors as have moved out the State of Gujarat may not be found anywhere in that State. According to some rough estimates, the number of such electors who have temporarily migrated to other States is around 20,000. Efforts have to be made to ensure that they are not deprived of their right to franchise for their temporary absence from the State in the wake of communal riots. Therefore, wide publicity shall have to be given to the Commission's directions for the special revision of electoral rolls, not only in the State of Gujarat but also in the States of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, etc., where these electors are stated to have migrated temporarily. Care must be taken to ensure against the deletion of their names merely on the ground of their temporary absence from the State of Gujarat to which they intend to return on the restoration of normalcy in the State. If any one of them responds to the publicity given to the Commission's direction for special revision of electoral rolls, his/her name should be retained in the electoral roll, if he so requests.
58. The Commission further directs that the programme for issue of EPICs can be restarted from 1.10.2002, as by that time, the house-to-house verification of electors would be over and the electoral registration officers would be knowing about the names of the persons, which are not likely to be affected by the remedial action under Rules 21 and 21 A of the 1960 Rules and the claims and objections received by them. This programme can also be started straightaway in the remaining 5 districts which are said to have not been affected by the riots. A target-oriented approach must be adopted to enable as large a section of people as possible who have lost their identification papers in the riots, to acquire the cards expeditiously.
59. In the full Commission's view, the law and order situation in the State is still far from normal. The wounds of the communal divide following the riots have not yet healed. The slow progress in relief and rehabilitation work on the one hand and non-arrest and non-punishment of the guilty and the fear of a communal backlash on the other have hampered the process of restoration of normalcy to the State. Similar feelings are shared by persons from the majority community living in minority-dominated areas. The people have lost confidence in the local police, civil administration and political executive. In this environment, election campaigns evoking passions will only shatter the fragile peace unless adequate confidence-building measures are taken up in earnestness and with urgency. Foremost among these would be to arrest and punish the guilty, irrespective of their status and rank, for their crimes. Also, all physical obstructions and barriers erected to deny access of the riot-affected people to their destroyed homes, some of those noticed by the Commission itself, must be removed forthwith and never allowed to be re-erected in future. The CPMF have to be inducted in large numbers for deployment in affected areas and permanent pickets need to be set up in the affected areas of the State to build confidence. The induction of CPMF and opening of permanent pickets can be started immediately. Finally, steps should be taken to rebuild peoples' confidence in the State police, political leadership and civil administration, especially in the highest echelons. Exemplary action in arresting and punishing the guilty and restoring to their original postings the officers who performed their duties fearlessly and forthrightly to contain the riots would go a long way in restoring the confidence in the law and order apparatus of the State.
60. The above observations on the slow relief and rehabilitation efforts are being highlighted to underscore the widespread displacement of persons in riot affected areas which has, as explained above, an immediate bearing on the fidelity of the existing electoral rolls and the continuing perception of fear and victimisation amongst the affected persons. By removing the shortcomings in the relief and rehabilitation measures already undertaken and completing the restoration and rehabilitation work on war-footing in the period when the exercise for revision of rolls is undertaken in the State, the administration can restore the confidence among the affected persons, particularly the minorities, and thereby facilitate preparation of clean and accurate electoral rolls for the forthcoming elections and create conditions conducive to holding free and fair elections.
61. After completion of this exercise to correct the electoral rolls and bringing them as up-to-date as possible and creation of conditions conducive for free and fair elections in the State, the Commission will consider framing a suitable schedule for the general election to the State Assembly in November-December 2002.
Chief Election Commissioner
|(T.S. KRISHNA MURTHY)