Election Commission is winner in Punjab polls

Chandigarh : Political parties in Punjab may have to wait for the outcome, but the assembly polls have already produced one sure winner – the Election Commission (EC).

The strict control that EC officials and their teams had over things in the five weeks between the announcement of elections Dec 24 till polling day Jan 30 saw the elections being conducted with discipline.

On the polling day itself, except for one poll-related death in a firing in Ferozepur district, which happened after the election process had officially ended at 5 p.m., and less than a dozen cases of clashes across Punjab, things remained largely violence-free despite the state recording nearly 79 percent – an all-time high – voter turnout from Punjab’s over 17.6 million electorate.

“A total of nine FIRs (first information reports) were registered at various places. The voting process was otherwise violence-free. No major incident of violence was reported,” Punjab’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Kusumjit Sidhu said.

More than this, the EC’s first-time experiment in Punjab of disallowing parties to set up their booths outside polling stations to give voter slips to voters seemed to have left the voters happy.

The EC ensured that nearly 99 percent of the electorate got their voter slips, having details of their voter number, polling station, etc, at their doorstep.

“This experiment of the EC was a good one. In smaller towns people know each other. If one went to the booth of one party, the others used to get upset. Voters like us were saved this time,” said Hoshiarpur-based trader Ravi Singh.

The EC had made it mandatory that all eligible voters should carry their voter I-card and the voter slip to the polling station. Without these, entry was not allowed into the polling station.

“The experiment of the EC itself giving voter slips ensured that many voters, who would have otherwise skipped exercising their franchise, went out to vote,” an election official in Phagwara said.

During the five weeks in the run-up to the assembly polls, the various static surveillance teams and flying squads of the departments of police, income tax and state excise, were kept busy with seizures.

EC teams recovered Rs.33.66 crore of unaccounted cash and over 697,000 bottles of country liquor in the run-up to the poll.

Other seizures included nearly 32,000 litres of illicit liquor, over 227,588 kg of ‘lahan’ (local liquor), 23 kg of heroin, 2,641 kg of poppy husk, 99 kg of opium, 952,697 tablets, 88,296 capsules and 4,362 bottles of syrups.

In addition, 213,352 licensed weapons, 80 percent of the state’s total count of licensed arms, were deposited with the authorities by their owners.

Though the ruling Akali Dal was not entirely happy with the EC functioning in Punjab, the opposition Congress was quite satisfied.

Punjab Congress chief and former chief minister Amarinder Singh complimented Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi and Punjab CEO Kusumjit Sidhu “for the conduct of free and fair polls in the state against all odds”.

The political parties in the fray will have to wait till March 6 when counting of votes takes place and results are announced for the 117 assembly seats.

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