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When the Congress-ruled Himachal Pradesh goes to bypolls to fill 251 vacancies in the three-tier gram panchayats covering all 12 districts, including snow-bound Lahaul-Spiti district, the voters will have the option to exercise NOTA for the first time in local polls.
For the first time, State Election Commission will introduce option of NOTA (None Of the Above) and this will be north India’s first state to get this option for the panchayat voters, after the May 9 Lok Sabha polls.
The Commission on Tuesday announced that more than 2.50 crore ballot papers which are printed already will be manually amended to create a new column for facilitating use of NOTA by the 1.75 lakh rural voters .
The last date for withdrawal of the nominations for 251 vacancies is November 19 and polling is slated for November 30 between 7 am to 3 pm. Counting of the ballot papers will be held on same day, announced State Election Commissioner T G Negi, who recently took charge.
Negi said “The decision to introduce NOTA was taken by the Commission on Monday in view of the Supreme Court order. Himachal Pradesh will be first among few Indian states (except I am told about Tripura), to enable the hill voters to exercise the option”.
Tripura is the only state to have introduced NOTA during Gram panchayat polls in July 2014, little after Lok Sabha polls.
The panchayat elections in the state were held in 2010 for three-tier bodies such as gram panchayat, panchayat samitis and Zila parishads when 19,413 panchayat members, 3243 Up-Pradhans and pradhans (each),1681 panchayat samiti members and 251 Zila Parishad members were elected.
The next panchayat elections are slated for December 2015, but before this State Election Commission has announced bypoll to fill the vacant positions in the gram panchayats along with the 34 gram pradhans.
The commission has decided not to use EVMs at every polling booth (1900 total) because five separate EMVs would be needed as a voter has to cast five votes viz for ward member, up-pradhan, pradhan, member panchayat samiti and Zila Parishad. Thus, ballot boxes will be used for the polls.
“We have already printed 2.50 crore ballot papers which did not have NOTA option. Now, each ballot paper will be manually prepared to write names of the candidates in the fray and introduce a NOTA column. These will be in Hindi – a language which can be understood by all the voters in the villages,” said Negi.
The panchayat elections in Himachal Pradesh are held on non-party basis and, hence, party symbols are not printed. But elections for the urban local bodies were held using party symbols in 2010. The same pattern will be followed for the bypoll. For this, the state election commission will also use EVMs.
One of the significant breakthrough, which State Election Commission has made, is to use electoral rolls of the last state assembly polls. This had helped in saving of Rs 2.50 crores to the state exchequer and preparation of fresh voter rolls would have been a very costly and time consuming exercise.
The local data from the panchayats about MNREGA scheme has also been merged to update the lists and give exact number of voters for the panchayats, Negi said.
Those candidates having encroached upon government lands and forest land will be ineligible to contest the polls. The model code of conduct has been imposed by the commission in all the panchayats where elections were being held.