In the first briefing session with about 1,800 Election Commission central observers Thursday, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora told them there was no scope for error during the Lok Sabha and select assembly polls in the country.
The CEC also underlined that concerns about abuse of money power and social media are “posing newer challenges” with changing times.
The full Election Commission, comprising CEC Arora and Election Commissioners Ashok Lavasa and Sushil Chandra, apart from other senior officials of the poll body, briefed the central observers about their roles and responsibilities on election duty.
The observers are drawn from various central services like the Indian Administrative Service, Indian Police Service (IPS) and Indian Revenue Service (Income Tax and Customs and Excise) apart from others, and they are taken on special ‘EC duty’ till the elections process ends.
An EC spokesperson said Arora told the officers that they need to be earnest and had no choice but to ensure that “no mistakes” are committed. He recalled that during the recent state elections all the good works done by the poll panel were relegated to the background due to”miniscule” instances like slippage in following protocol on Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and VVPAT (Voter verifiable paper audit trail) procedures, a few names missing from the electoral rolls and delay in counting of votes.
The CEC told them that while they render their task, the EC closely observes them in order to ensure that they sincerely discharge the assigned duties, the spokesperson said.
The endeavour of the EC is not only to conduct free and fair elections but also transparent, clean and ethical elections, the CEC said. EC Ashok Lavasa, the spokesperson said, reminded the observers that they need to ensure implementation of all instructions of the poll body “in letter and spirit.”
“He (Lavasa) also mentioned that the recently launched CVigil App has helped empower every citizen also to help the EC keep a vigilant eye on model code violations,” the spokesperson said. EC Sushil Chandra, who last held the post of the CBDT Chairman, had a special word for the about 800 expenditure observers saying their role “becomes crucial when methods of extending inducements to voters are becoming very innovative.”
The spokesperson said the observers, during the daylong briefing sessions, were given comprehensive and thorough inputs about various aspects of election management by other senior officials of the EC. “The observers were also acquainted with the various information technology initiatives and mobile applications launched by the Commission for voter facilitation as well as effective and efficient management of election process in the field.
“They were provided functional demonstration of EVMs and VVPATs and briefed about the multifarious technical security features, administrative protocols and procedural safeguards that surround the EVM ecosystem to make it completely secure, robust, reliable, non-tamperable and credible,” the spokesperson said. The observers were also informed by the EC about a maiden mobile app called the ‘observer app’.
Using this app, observers can submit their report securely to the EC and they will also get all important notifications, alerts, and urgent messages on this app while they are on duty, the spokesperson said.
The CEC, ECs and other EC brass also talked about the entire polls process, code of conduct, rules, laws and other subjects to the observers that they will encounter during the polls for over two months time now, officials said.
The EC’s mechanism to curb blackmoney and illegal inducements like liquor and drugs and the teams deployed to check these was specifically shared with the expenditure monitoring observers, they said. Another round of meeting, albeit on a smaller scale, could be held later this month, they said.
The EC had declared the dates and processes for elections to the 17th Lok Sabha on March 10. The elections will begin on April 11 and polling would be held over seven phases through May 19, followed by counting of votes on May 23. Assembly polls in Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim will be held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha election.