EC annoyed by government delaying BBMP elections

State election commissioner M R Hegde has a sparkle in his eye when he talks about the body's successes in rural Karnataka. But for Bangalore, the EC is handicapped.

On 4th August, former mayor P R Ramesh sent a notice to the State Election Commission asking it to hold elections of the Bruhat Bangaluru Mahanagara Palike within a fortnight. The notice said that though the Karnataka High Court on 2 July 2008, had directed the Election Commission and State to hold elections, no action had been taken so far.

It is not that the Election Commission is dragging its feet on the matter or that its officials are lethargic and unwilling to move. The problem rests elsewhere. On 20th August, the Election Commision filed an application with the High Court notifying it that the delay in delimitation is at the Urban Development Department of the state government.

Citizen Matters talked to M R Hegde, State Election Commissioner on the developments.

Referring to P R Ramesh’s notice, Hedge says, "I do not care about any notice. I am not bound to reply and I neither have I replied. If the need be I will talk to the court. I am answerable to the court," says Hegde with a firm look as he sits in his office with a few report files neatly kept on the table. He has a pile of magazines as well and one of them open in front of him. He is in his 50s and talks in a firm voice.

He is proud to be in the Election Commission and boasts of the department’s work, the way they have adopted new technologies to make work easier and accurate. So what is going wrong with the scheduled BBMP elections?

"The local body elections were originally planned in November 2006, but the delimitation never happened that time. Thus the dates kept moving further," he says.

For Bangalore’s city elections to happen, the delimitation of the wards (Bangalore now has at least 45 new wards since the expansion in 2007) and reservations of seats needs to be completed. Delimitation is the process of marking the boundaries of the new wards. The delimitation and reservations are done by the Urban Development Department (UDD) of the state government (usually through a draft notification process that is open to public comment). It is after this that the Election Commission takes over task of developing the voter lists for each ward. The EC then conducts a verification of the lists.

Presently the UDD has not released the draft delimitation notification into public domain. Kathyani Chamaraj, coordinator of Citizens Voluntary Initiative for the City (CIVIC) says that there is no need to delay the election any further, and that it is a constitutional violation. "If they are delaying they might as well come up with a proper electoral roll and then do the elections. They should at least redraw all the polling booth areas," she says. She suggests that the delimitation should be geographically homogenous, so that a sense of community can be achieved.

Delay, drag, deny

Originally scheduled two years back, the BBMP elections have been delayed for one reason or other. After the original dissolution of the council (2006), the state government issued a notification to expand the Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BMP) area of jurisdiction. This notification was withheld by the Supreme Court. It eventually got cleared and the present Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike was formed with some added areas.

Hegde notes that in February 2007, the call for elections was again made but nothing worked. There was a lot of political drama in the state last year as well. "The governments kept on changing, therefore the delimitation was not taken seriously," he says with a fall in his voice.

Hegde feels that during the time Karnataka had Presidents’ rule, the delimitation could have happened smoothly without political pressures. But no one was interested in doing it even then. According to him it takes not more than 25 days to prepare the voters list. "I would suggest they at least prepare the delimitations and then the reservations can happen simultaneously with the voter lists."

Hegde seems disturbed and annoyed when he says, "I have no idea what is limiting them from finishing the work on time. It is already a month since the court order to finish elections in three months but we have not got any information from their side on the progress so far."

The Chief Secretary has also sent a letter to the court informing it about the present situation. Hegde strongly discourages the ‘lethargic’ way of working and says, "When we are wedded to a system we need to respect it. In this way the present government will also lose its voters."

If left to itself, the EC would push forward faster

Hegde also shares some of his own experiences when the Election Commission conducts elections for the zilla panchayats and taluka panchayats by explaining how their department conducted the elections: "We had 6,000 constituencies and we had to work from the scratch. Even the work force was not more than 35 people but we managed to finish the delimitation, reservations, making of voter lists in the period of three months, from March to May."

"The High Court called those elections as most technically sound elections," says Hegde, with proud and a sparkle in his eyes.

A faint smile appears on his face when he explains the process. "We took help from technicians and software professionals to provide us with a system." He suggests that the state government can also do that, they have more resources but they are not interested. "I do not find any commitment in any of the working bodies," he adds.

According to him, the new government already has a report on the population and geographical status, based on which the delimitation can be completed and issued for public comment. At the most there will be some questions and suggestions on the present report, which can be solved. But to even solve them the work needs to begin.

"Our honourable ministers have been saying that they are unable to do delimitation because of doubts in the reports. But from my personal experience I can say that whatever doubts that occur in the reports, 90 per cent of them are not genuine and therefore doubts don’t really take so long," he says with certainty.

While this officer pours his heart out for his unrest for the lethargic system, we are left to wonder if his discomfort makes any difference to the government.

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