Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Poll goof-up? Tens of thousands of duplicate voters galore in Ahmedabad, amidst 25,000 pending applications

Bombay Hotel area, Ahmedabad
By Rajiv Shah
Even as Gujarat prepares to vote on April 30, well-informed sources have told Counterview that the state administration, currently operating under the Election Commission of India (ECI), has “completely messed up” the entire process of registration of voters. Giving one example after another, these sources, quoting senior officials in charge of poll management, have said, in the Ahmedabad district alone there are a whopping 45,000 “duplicate voters”, and there is still no “foolproof system which would ensure that they are deleted”.
In fact, these sources quote Roopwant Singh, district collector, Ahmedabad, who also happens to be the chief of the electoral hierarchy in the district, as having told an internal meeting that while he “believes” there are 45,000 duplicate voters, “it is proving to be extremely difficult to identify them.” A major reason being listed is lack of staff across at the ground level, meant to identify these duplicate voters in order to delete their names.
This is not the only issue that has been identified by non-political observers who are watching the electoral process from close quarters. “Around 25,000 applications, complete with photographs and necessary documents, remained pending with the Ahmedabad district electoral officials in March-end, and Singh declared it a day, saying these cannot be entered in, a week before the last date for finalizing the voter list ended, which was March 30”, the sources, privy to the development, said.
The sources said, one of the basic reason behind such a “huge goof-up” – which is taking place across Gujarat and is not confined to one district – is the state administration decision to hand over the job of data entry to private operators. 
“There are just two of them doing the job, sitting on the first floor of the district collector’s office. In fact, as the date for completing the electoral list, March 31, drew nearer, they protested and even went on a go-slow strike. The district collector was helpless. The applications were not registered. Those made them would now be deprived of voting”, the sources said.
The sources also said that huge minority-dominated areas where large sections have still not been registered as voters. This especially true of Bombay Hotel and Citizen Nagar areas, where nearly 1.5 lakh people live, many of whom are still devoid of voter ID cards. 
“Set up following the Gujarat riots in 2002, people who live here has migrated from other parts of Gujarat. About 50 per cent of the people here have no means to prove their identity, hence they will be deprived of voter ID card”, the sources point out. “Officials suspect, these may be registered as voters elsewhere, hence they are not registered at the new place.”
The situation with the state’s rural areas is even worse, the sources say. “In Chhotaudepur in South Gujarat, for instance, there is just one deputy mamlatdar who was in charge of looking after the job of registering new voters. He has been complaining to senior officials for long that he needs more helping hands, and he cannot do the job alone, but there is no help forthcoming from any quarter. This deputy mamlatdar is additional charge of least a dozen other jobs. It is impossible for him to cope with his electoral work”, the sources said.
Meanwhile, a voluntary organization, which is one of the many working for voter awareness drive across the state in alliance with the Election Commission of India, has found during its campaign that voters, especially poor Dalits and Muslims, are being offered Rs 1,200 per vote by a particular political party to vote. 
A senior activist said, the fear factor among the minorities because of the 2002 riots is a major reason for the middle classes to feel that if they do not support the majority they would face reprisals. Under the present system, it is possible to know which electoral booth voted which party – and the details are shared with political parties!

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