Headquarters of the Election Commission of India in New Delhi | Source: ECI
Headquarters of the Election Commission of India in New Delhi | Commons
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EC refuses to answer ThePrint’s RTI plea asking for official communication on the bypoll between the poll panel, the state and central governments.

New Delhi: When the BJP Tuesday pulled out of the J&K government, where it was in coalition with the PDP, its general secretary Ram Madhav cited a number of administrative failures and justified his party’s decision, saying it was taken “keeping in mind the larger interest of India’s integrity and security”.

One glaring political marker, however, didn’t make it to his list: The bypoll to the Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency not being held due to security fears.

Reason: The inability of various stakeholders, including the PDP-BJP government, to create a conducive atmosphere so that free and fair elections could be conducted.

Anantnag, which was Mehbooba Mufti’s seat, fell vacant in July 2016 after she resigned as MP to take over as chief minister.

The Election Commission (EC), which has been delaying the vote in Anantnag for more than year, has now refused to divulge the reason behind it.

ThePrint, in an RTI plea, sought to know the official communication on the matter between the EC, the state and central governments. But the poll panel, citing Section 8 (1) (a) and Section 8 (1) (g) of the RTI Act, 2005, declined to share any information.

Section 8 (1) (a) withholds information, the “disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the state, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence.”

Section 8 (1) (g) prevents disclosure of information that would “endanger the life or physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purposes.”

Trouble in Anantnag

In 2017, the EC announced that by-elections to the Srinagar and Anantnag Lok Sabha constituencies would be held on 9 April and 12 April respectively.

The Srinagar bypoll was necessitated after PDP founder-leader Tariq Hamid Karra resigned from the party and Parliament.

But widespread violence and a mere 7 per cent turnout in Srinagar made the EC issue a notification on 10 April rescheduling the Anantnag bypoll for 25 May.

On 1 May 2017, however, the EC rescinded its notification and issued a fresh one, saying the elections will be “held by the commission in due course when the situation becomes conducive to the holding of free, fair and peaceful election”.

In its RTI reply, though the EC did not provide information on the communication with the state and Centre, it explained the basis for its 10 April notification.

According to the reply, the state administration filed a report with the poll panel on 10 April 2017, saying Anantnag was one of the “worst affected areas” in terms of law and order disturbances that year. The report also said that militants operating in the area would join the “anti-election” campaign and fuel further violence along with the stone-pelting crowds.

The EC said while the Congress had urged it to take “extra necessary and adequate measures to instill the confidence amongst the voters”, the PDP sent a representation on 20 April saying the Anantnag bypoll “might vitiate further the disturbed atmosphere in the entire Kashmir valley” and hence “requested the commission for further deferment of poll.”

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