As you may be aware, that the Election Commission is in the process of preparation for the State Assembly elections which are to take place towards the end of this year. A delegation on behalf of Campaign for Peace and Justice in Chhattisgarh(CPJC) met the Chief Election Commissioner Sh.N. Gopalaswami and Election Commissioner Sh. Navin Chandra along with some senior officials of the Election Commission of India on 9th September 2008 to raise concerns regarding the preparation of electoral rolls and other matters relating to the forth coming elections in Dantewada and Bijapur districts of South Chhattisgarh.
Following were the main issues raised by the delegation:
Regarding discrepancies of Electoral Rolls:According to recent media reports, Government of Chhattisgarh claims that more than 57,000 people are living in these camps and their names are getting included in the electoral rolls for the camps and media reports indicate that the Government has initiated a process of including their names in the electoral roles for the camps. As per reports we have received from local civil society members and fact findings done by CPJC members, majority of people who were living in these relief camps have gone back to their homes in their respective villages. According to our information the number of residents in camps is not more than 10,000.
There are several other discrepancies existing in the preparation of Electoral rolls: many names in from the voter’s list have been dropped and in some cases names of children aged 13-16 have been included in the names. Moreover, names of several people who have fled to Andhra Pradesh and other neighbouring states have been added or maintained in the electoral rolls of Salwa Judum camps when they never lived there.
Government of Chhattisgarh has closed down most of Public Distribution System(PDS) shops in these villages. Therefore people have to come back to Salwa Judum camps to buy their ration.These details from camp ration shops have been shown to prove that 57,000 people are still living in these camps. This amounts to willfully misleading the Commission and the everyone else.
This means that while many genuine voters would be deprived of their right to vote, the free and fair nature elections itself would be affected due to these discrepancies.
Voting rights of those who have been forced to flee Chhattisgarh:Estimates of people who have fled to these states range from 50,000 to 1,50,000. As we have stated earlier, names of several people who have fled to Andhra Pradesh and other neighbouring states have been added or maintained in the electoral rolls of Salwa Judum camps when they never lived there. We are afraid that this will inevitably result in fraud voting while the citizens themselves are deprived of their right to vote.
Sh.Manish Kunjam, CPI leader and former MLA from Sukama, Dantewada has also written to the CEC raising these and several other issues.
The Election Commission made it clear that they were not in a position to make any arrangements for those who have been forced to migrate to other states unless they are in designated government camps in these states. Considering that all the neighbouring states have failed to recognise the IDPs, provide them with basics and even to protect them from harassment at the hands of the forest department officials, let alone enumerate them or establish government relief camps, this essentially means that thousands of people would be deprived of their basic political right to vote.
Regarding electoral rolls CEC said that electoral rolls have not yet been finalised and that they will look into and correct any discrepancies if they are pointed out in the draft electoral rolls that were published earlier this year. CEC was also of the opinion that since photo identity cards are to be issues this year, the chances of fraud voting would be minimised.
However, most worrisome was the Commission’s response to the issue of inclusion of names of people who had returned to villages in the electoral rolls of Salwa Judum camps. We were told that if the villages and the camps are in the same constituency then it should be no problem if there names were included in the camp lists as they will be polling in the same constituency. The delegation raised our fears that people will inevitable be coerced if this happens, but we did not get a response from the Commission. The delegation also appealed to the Commission that they must recognise the tense situation in CG and make special arrangements. There are precedents like the Commission’s intervention Kashmir. However, the Commission was of the opinion that the situation was markedly different because in Kashmir they at least had access to areas which is not the case in CG with its ‘liberated zones’. Both these positions of the Commission are worrying because they seem to be blindly going along with the position taken by the Chhattisgarh government without making an independent assessment of the situation.
Members of the delegation:Sumit Chakravartty, Editor, Mainstream Weekly, Vijayan MJ, Pravin Mote and Sridevi Panikkar.