State legislative assembly elections are being held in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh (UP), Uttarakhand, Manipur, and Goa. The elections held in these states have been largely peaceful and two phases of polls – the final phases in both Uttar Pradesh and Manipur remain to be held on March 11 (apart from supplementary polls in UP on March 9). About 160 million voters are recorded to participate in these elections for 403 seats in UP, 117 seats in Punjab, 70 seats in Uttarakhand, 40 seats in Goa, and 60 seats in Manipur.
The Election Commission (EC) of India – the body responsible for conducting free and fair polls in the country – has gone into overdrive ensuring that the polls are free from any form of coercion and that the security arrangements for the counting of votes are foolproof. March 11, the day the votes are counted in these various states, however, will be the acid test of the security measures the EC has put in place.
While the EC has made extensive arrangements to store the EVMs (Electronic Voting Machines) in high-security storage units, it has also issued directives to the CEOs (Chief Electoral Officers) with detailed instructions about the counting process.
In Letter And In Spirit
In all, 157 counting centres have been set up – 75 in Uttar Pradesh, 53 in Punjab, 15 in Uttarakhand, 12 in Manipur, and 2 in Goa. Counting of votes will be held in all five poll-bound states simultaneously on March 11, 2017. It is likely that the results will be announced by 12 noon on the same day. All the District Election Officers (DEOs) and Returning Officers (ROs) have been asked to follow the EC’s instructions “in letter and in spirit”.
The process of counting votes is to follow a step-by-step process. Arrangements are to be made to tackle all sorts of exigencies without any breach of security protocols.
A wire mesh barricade shall be erected from the barricade to the counting hall, to ensure that the EVMs are transported to the respective constituency’s counting booth. Counting agents shall be similarly segregated from the counting personnel and the EVMs. The personnel transporting the EVMs from the strong room to the individual booths shall be provided with colour coded badges to identify their individual constituencies.
The entire vote counting process shall be videotaped for effective monitoring. The entire process of transporting EVMs, counting, and declaring the results of the elections shall be monitored live. This shall be done by installing additional CCTV cameras in the premises.
As per the EC’s instructions, all security arrangements at the counting centres must be completed by March 7. Independent security observers shall then visit the halls on March 8 and write up a report, that shall be sent to the EC confirming the arrangements made as per directives.
The central government had announced the deployment of 85,000 security personnel in the five poll-bound states during the voting and the counting processes. Apart from this, over 100 State Armed Police Forces and India Reserve Battalions companies have been deployed too. The counting centres are to be securely guarded at all times.
All the security arrangements of the five states shall be overseen and monitored by their respective CEOs. According to the EC, the entire plan and all the security arrangements will be shared with the candidates contesting the elections by their respective DEOs. The candidates or their chosen representatives shall also be invited to be present during the counting (only after the security arrangements are put in place). They may accept the invitation or decline, if necessary.
Whatever the election results, in a democracy as vast and as complex as India, the Election Commission comes off as the ultimate hero.