No NOTA for 3 Oct civic polls in Bengal but EVMs first time for rural elections

Featured Image: The official NOTA symbol designed by National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad and released on 18 September 2015. Photo courtesy: Nizil Shah on wikipedia
Featured Image: The official NOTA symbol designed by National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad and released on 18 September 2015. Photo courtesy: Nizil Shah on wikipedia

By bappaditya paul

Kolkata, 23 September: VOTERS in Bengal will once again miss out on the option to press the None of the Above (NOTA) button during the 3 October civic polls in three urban bodies and the Siliguri rural polls.

This is because Mamata Banerjee-led state government has not amended the related legislations to allow the state election commission (SEC) to introduce NOTA for local body polls. This is despite a brief session of the Bengal Assembly presently being underway since 18 September.

The SEC will however, for the first time, put to use electronic voting machines (EVM) for rural polls in the state during Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad elections and the panchayat by-polls elsewhere. Till now, the use of EVM was limited to Assembly and Lok Sabha polls.

“In response to our latest reminder, state panchayat department wrote to us about 20 days ago saying, the government was unable to amend the Panchayat Election Rules and hence NOTA option would not be available for the coming polls,” said Bengal state election commissioner Sushanta Ranjan Upadhyay.

“We had sent a similar reminder to the municipal affairs department but are yet to get a reply.”

Upadhayay added that in response to a query, Election Commission of India has replied that it had introduced NOTA from the 2014 Lok Sabha polls following a Supreme Court order in 2013 and it did not require an amendment to Central election laws because of the SC ruling.

“But we cannot do so without the panchayat and municipal election rules being amended. Not only Bengal, several other states have failed to do this so far,” he said.

To bring in NOTA option, amendments are necessary to the West Bengal Municipalities (Conduct of Elections) Rules, 1995, and the West Bengal Panchayat Elections Rules, 2006.

Thus, the civic polls voters at Bidhannagar-Rajarhat, Bally, Asansol and the rural poll voters in Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad on 3 October will either have to choose a candidate or abstain from voting altogether.

Notwithstanding the upset over NOTA, SEC’s move to use EVMs for rural polls will be a big relief for voters in 520 booths in Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad elections and in another 1,111 booths for the panchayat by-polls elsewhere in the state. This will reducing the time taken in casting a vote and also expedite the vote counting scheduled for 7 October.

SEC has around 25,000 EVMs and a part of them will be used for the 3 October polls.

(Bappaditya Paul is editor of NEWSMEN, West Bengal, India. This article first appeared on www.newsmen.in on 23 September 2015.) 

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