-The TMC Desk
New Delhi, Oct 25 After facing flak over delinking the schedule from Himachal Pradesh a fortnight ago, the Election Commission on Wednesday announced that Assembly polls in Gujarat will be held on December 9 and 14, asserting that the delay was meant to ensure that relief and rehabilitation work in the wake of devastating floods was not affected.
Declaring the schedule, Chief Election Commission A.K. Joti said the independence and impartiality of the poll panel cannot be questioned on account of the delay which was on account of the flood situation in north Gujarat.
The Election Commission has already announced that the results of the elections for the 182-member Gujarat and 68-seat Himachal Pradesh assemblies will be declared on December 18.
The date of filing of nominations for the first phase of Gujarat polls covering 89 constituencies in 19 districts will be November 14 and the last date will be November 21. The scrutiny of nominations will take place the next day and the last day of withdrawal will be November 24.
In the second phase, covering 93 seats in 14 districts, the nominations will open on November 20. The last date of nominations will be November 27. Scrutiny will be done on November 28 and the last date for withdrawal will be November 30.
The model code of conduct that bars governments from taking policy decisions and announcing new projects came into force immediately in BJP-ruled Gujarat.
Joti was repeatedly asked questions about the opposition criticism of the Commission that it came under government pressure to delay the announcement so that the government could declare new projects for the state before the model code of conduct comes into force.
He maintained that unprecedented rain and floods delayed the announcement because the Commission wanted to ensure that in no way the pace of the rehabilitation work should be hampered.
“The severity of the rain and flood could be guaged from the fact that seven north Gujarat districts, including Ahmedabad, were affected and 229 people lost their lives. It is not a small number. It shows the magnitude of the flood situation… There is no question of connivance with anyone for the delay.
“The Commission always takes decisions on the prevailing situation that is not static but is dynamic. The charge that the Commission had given up its impartiality is not acceptable,” he said, adding that even for the Himachal Pradesh government there was time available till October 11 for announcement of new projects.
The schedule for Himachal Pradesh polls was announced on October 12. The hill state votes on November 9.
Soon after the Himachal announcement, the opposition parties had come down heavily on the poll panel alleging that it had given the BJP government in Gujarat and Prime Minister Narendra Modi more time to announce election sops.
The Prime Minister made two visits to Gujarat after the Himachal schedule was declared and announced launching projects worth Rs 3,600 crore in a bid to woo electorate in his home state.
But the poll panel chief denied that the delay had anything political about it.
“The delinking was done because of the flood situation in Gujarat and there was no other special reason,” Joti said.
The total number of voters in Gujarat will be 4.33 crore, up from 4.27 crore in the last election. The electors photo identity cards (EPIC) is to the extent of 99.99 per cent. The total number of polling stations will be 50,128 as against 44,579 in the last elections.
Electronic voting machines will be used at all the polling stations along with voter verifiable paper audit trails (VVPATs) under which a voter will be able to see the candidate, the party and the symbol for whom they voted.
“The Commission has already made arrangements to ensure availability of adequate number of EVMs and VVPATs for the smooth conduct of election,” Joti said.