CHENNAI: Tamil Nadu has been without elected local bodies for over three years now as holding the elections, initially due in October 2016, continues to be like a jinxed play amid a bunch of litigations going right up to the Supreme Court. Other uncertainties have only compounded the issue, particularly after the demise of the former Chief Minister, J Jayalalithaa in December 2016 and opposition DMK and the ruling AIADMK trading charges on who caused the delay.
However, in recent weeks, the Edappadi K Palaniswami-led AIADMK government is now on a better footing and both ministers and officials have been exuding optimism that the elections to Panchayati Raj and Nagarpalika institutions at various levels would be held by end of December 2019. Their hope is more surefooted now with the State Election Commission (SEC) having informed the Supreme Court that the SEC would announce the poll schedule by October-end.
Step into November on Friday, that hope persists as the AIADMK government, buoyed by its two stunning Assembly by-election victories from Vikravandi and Nanguneri constituencies are ready to face the Local Bodies polls. In fact, whenever DMK raised the issue, the AIADMK sharpshooters have been hitting back that it was the main opposition’s petition in the High Court seeking proper delimitation of wards before calling for elections that has been delaying the polls.
The exercise as and when held would be truly staggering in terms of numbers:
The urban local bodies in Tamil Nadu now include 15 municipal corporations, 148 municipalities and 561 town panchayats. The rural local bodies comprise 12,524 village panchayats, 388 panchayat unions and 33 district panchayats or councils. In all, over one lakh persons including ward members will need to be elected, including fulfillment of reservation for women, scheduled castes and tribes.
The speeding up of the preparations is evidenced by the fact that EVMs’ are being checked and readied on a huge scale at all the district headquarters including Chennai as the SEC led by its commissioner Mr. Palanisamy, has said that voting in all the urban local bodies till the town panchayat level will be through EVMs’ this time. This would require the SEC to source thousands of EVMs’ from other states and ensure the machines are in proper shape, fit and functional before announcing the poll schedule. In Chennai on Friday, at a ward in Manali, SEC officials discussed the arrangements and checked the EVMs’ that are to be used.
Just sample this requirement of EVMs’ for Chennai municipal corporation alone: Sources say there are 5,714 polling booths for the metro and two sets of EVMs’ will be needed in each booth, one to choose the Mayor and the other the respective ward member. In all for Chennai Corporation area alone, over 40,000 control and balloting units will be needed and officials since October 1 have been involved in first-level checks of the machines, re-setting them for the local bodies polls and randomizing the units. There is yet another 15 per cent work to be done.
The SEC chief Mr. R. Palanisamy held a video conference meeting with all district collectors in this regard on Wednesday and during the discussions, the collectors are understood to have urged him to postpone the poll schedule even beyond December 2019, owing to the vigorous Northeast monsoon rains that have begun this year from October second week.
Sources said that apart from the logistical difficulties in sourcing the EVMs’ in time, amid Assembly elections in other states, and the monsoon uncertainties, there is still doubts in the minds of the people whether the elections to local bodies in Tamil Nadu would be held in the near future.
Opposition party leaders including DMK president M K Stalin have been expressing doubts whether the AIADMK government will hold the Panchayat polls now, as general elections to the Assembly is just 18 months away and the ruling party is thus playing for time....