Hyderabad: Ever since the Telangana State Election Commissioner C. Parthasarathy announced the decision to commence the elections for the GHMC and released its schedule on November 17, he has been in the eye of a storm.
Opposition parties and citizen bodies have criticised him for the decision for a plethora of reasons, ranging from holding the elections when the Coronavirus pandemic is raging when the Council still have a couple of months to end its term to choosing a long holiday weekend to giving too little time to parties to finalise candidates and campaign.
There were other decisions too which have been contested or protested against, including choosing ballot paper option over the untamperable EVMs to being partisan towards the ruling party, among others, leading to constant bickering between Mr Parthasarathy and the leaders of the opposition.
The SEC was even blamed by several citizens on social media on the day of the polling for the low voter turnout. In an exclusive interview with Deccan Chronicle, he responds to the various allegations and clarifies the official view of the Election Commission.
Q. How does the SEC respond to criticisms by citizens and opposition parties that in several aspects from changing polling booths out of Covid requirements to creating awareness among voters, from perception of impartiality, to lacunae in duplication and deletion of voter names from lists, holding election at end of a long weekend, you have failed the spirit of democracy and are responsible for low voter turnout?
A. In the General Elections (Lok Sabha, 2019), polling stations (PSs) were created for every 1,500 voters. Thus, at that time, we had 6,911 polling stations in the GHMC area. Now, as per new SEC guidelines, taking into consideration the COVID 19 situation and precautions that had to be taken, we created 9,101 polling stations, providing for only 1,000 voters per PSs. So additional PSs had to be created.
To the maximum possible extent, new PSs were selected in existing location only. In spite of all the odds you have mentioned, because of the measures taken by the SEC, polling went off peacefully by and large. The voting exceeded the poll percentage of previous elections.
Q. On the issue of integrity of elections and prevention of voter fraud, it has been pointed out that while Form 21 is normally filled and given to representatives of candidates of all parties while sealing the ballot boxes, this time you have provided Form 17? They also point out that the ballot boxes are not numbered and this does not reflect in the form? Some even say the seal being used is not of the SEC but of the Telangana state government. So how do voters know on counting day ballot boxes have not been tampered with, or even replaced?
A. The Form 17 is used by the Election Commission of India in general elections (Parliament and Assembly) where in the local body elections, as per the SEC instructions, we use Form 21. Further, the ballot boxes have numbers engraved on it. Due to repeated painting and extensive usage for the past many years, the engraved numbers are not recognizable and hence not mentioned on the form.
Q. There is strong criticism on how a 17-year-old boy was appointed to oversee election work as an official inside a booth? Is SEC not in violation of child labour laws, besides a posse of other guidelines?
A. He is not an official but a webcasting student volunteer. There are no age related guidelines for this kind of work. It was lunch hour and the student was inside the polling booth to have lunch with other polling personnel. For webcasting, we take students who have laptops and know how to operate the same. We were following the guidelines.