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Thursday, December 02, 2021

‘Hopeful of completing process for BMC polls in time, but hiccups for other local bodies’

With elections to BMC and other civic bodies due early next year, the State Election Commission (SEC) has already begun preparations, State Election Commissioner U P S Madan tells Yogesh Naik in an interview.

Written by Yogesh Naik | Mumbai |
Updated: November 7, 2021 8:51:35 pm
UPS Madan. (Photo: State Election Commission, Maharashtra)

With elections to BMC and other civic bodies due early next year, the State Election Commission (SEC) has already begun preparations, State Election Commissioner U P S Madan tells The Indian Express in an interview.

When will the municipal corporation elections in Mumbai be held? Does the SEC have enough time for demarcation of wards under the new rules so that elections can take place on time?

The BMC elections are due by March next year. We are hopeful that the process will be completed in time. But there are some hiccups regarding other municipal bodies. In other municipal corporations and councils, single-member wards have been turned into multi member wards. Besides, the number of corporators and councillors has been increased in these urban local bodies (except in Mumbai).

So it will take a little more time to revise the current delimitation plans.

Earlier, OBC reservation was 27 per cent in all local bodies regardless of the quantum of total reservation of SC, ST and OBC. Now in view of the directions of the Supreme Court, the state government has passed an ordinance capping the total quantum at 50%. We will announce the elections in the pending municipalities also once their delimitation and reservation process is complete.

Due to COVID-19, the election process in corporations of Navi Mumbai, Kalyan Dombivali, Aurangabad, Kolhapur and Vasai Virar will also be delayed.

In the elections to urban local bodies, voters (in return for promising their votes) ask candidates to get their buildings painted, pay maintenance and cable TV charges. Can the Election Commission stop this?

As a rule, we come into the picture only when elections are announced and the code of conduct becomes operational. So we can’t keep a track of such activities now.

Besides, it is also the responsibility of voters to be sincere to themselves. If you are asking a candidate to spend from his own pocket for your personal needs, he is going to make up his loss, and perhaps multiply that manifold.

No candidate is going to spend from own pocket. People can ask for public facilities but not for personal needs. They have to decide whether they want a coat of paint on their building or better governance. My appeal to citizens therefore is not to promote such activities.

Since the stakes are very high in local polls, do you foresee increased tension between political parties in Mumbai? How will you monitor hate speech?

As experience goes, local bodies are more closely fought than Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. Vote margins are less, so there is more tension. Now because of several factors, I can see more tension building up. We have to keep a closer watch on the whole process. The responsibility of the administration in the field and the police will increase. We are aware of all this and will handle the situation well.

Do you feel that representation of women is good enough in Mumbai and satellite towns?

In all municipal bodies, there is 50 per cent reservation for women. In Mumbai, women’s reservation is 33 per cent. This is a political issue. Governments in the past have continued with this decision of 33% reservation in BMC. In any case, now more and more women are coming forward in politics.

How will you ensure that BMC, Thane MC, Navi Mumbai MC, Vasai Virar MC elections are conducted without disturbing Covid treatment facilities, treatment and management?

Protocols have been well defined to tackle Covid issues. All governments, including central and state, and disaster management authorities have defined protocols for Covid. Directions issued by all such authorities will be followed in areas having elections.

We generally follow EC guidelines for Covid. EC has conducted a number of elections in the last 1.5 years. There are also guidelines by governments. Closer to the elections, we will declare our guidelines. We will consider everything and try to not deny voting rights to people. We hope that the figures of COVID-19 patients will go down by then.

It has been seen in the last several elections that local body elections in urban areas are conducted with the help of staff who are sympathetic to those in power. How will you to stop this?

To some extent this can be true, but we can’t bring staff from outside. For that matter even for Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections, one can argue that the government staff is loyal to those in power. The staff on election duty knows that those in power may not remain in power. We have strict laws for those who are partial or helping a particular candidate or party. We will definitely take strict action against such offenders.

In Mumbai and its satellite towns, there is usually a low turnout in local body polls. How will you ensure that more people vote?

It does happen in bigger cities. The thumb rule is the bigger the city, the lower the turnout. It can be because several people are not registered, or they are not interested, or people go out for a picnic on the day of poll. In the last elections, the turnout was relatively high due to several efforts of the SEC.

We are involving the youth in a big way. We have coordinated with universities and new students have to take an oath that they will register as voters once they turn 18.

We asked universities to include one chapter on democracy and good governance in the first year. Many universities have responded well. We are also using social media and Facebook chat bot platform to promote awareness among citizens. Several NGOs are also helping us in this effort.

ECI has already declared the programme of updating the rolls from November 1 to 30. My appeal to all citizens therefore is to get their names registered in electoral rolls now if they are not already registered. No addition or deletion of name will be done in the rolls after this. So make sure that your name is there to avoid disappointment on the day of poll.

The ECI gets officers from the IRS and IAS as observers, do you feel that local body polls should have such kind of observers to check gross use of money?

We will also have some observers. The kind of service from where the observers are to be requisitioned will be decided later. If we decide on Government of India officers, we will request them.

You were the chief electoral officer of Maharashtra, represented the ECI and also worked as chief secretary. Do you feel the SEC needs to improve its performance?

I think it is not the performance of the SEC that is any matter of concern. It is the matter of perception about us. We and ECI are on a par under the Constitution. Unfortunately the perception of people, political parties and even government officials is not the same. So sometimes they don’t take directions of SEC for taking disciplinary action or providing funds as seriously as is done for ECI. We require the same kind of treatment for SEC.

As a voter based in Mumbai, what are your expectations from the BMC?

I am a Mumbaikar now. My only expectation from the corporation as a citizen is good governance. If the governance is good, demands and expectations of people will be fulfilled to a great extent.

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