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In rare move, Election Commission pushes Punjab polls to Feb 20

On Sunday, nearly a month before Punjab votes to elect its new government, Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi urged the EC to postpone the February 14 Assembly polls by six days in view of Guru Ravidas Jayanti.

Written by Anisha Dutta | New Delhi |
Updated: January 18, 2022 12:56:56 am
Punjab pollsThe date of notification will be issued on January 25, and the state would go to polls on February 20. The counting will be held on March 10. (Express Photo: Rana Simranjit)

The new date of notification will be issued on January 25, and the state will go to polls on February 20 while counting of votes will be undertaken on March 10.

“After consideration of all facts made available, Election Commission has announced 2022 General Elections to the Legislative Assembly of State of Punjab on 8th January 2022 under which notification for the election is to be issued on 21st January 2022 and poll is to take place on 14th February 2022,” the Commission said in a statement.

“Commission has received several representations from State Government, Political Parties and other organizations drawing attention regarding movement of a large number of devotees from Punjab to Varanasi for participation in Sri Guru Ravidas Ji Jayanti celebrations, which is observed on 16th February 2022. They have also brought to the notice that a large number of devotees start moving for Varanasi around a week before the day of celebration and keeping the poll day on 14th February 2022 will deprive large number of electors from voting. In view of this, they have requested to shift the poll date few days after 16th February 2022,” it said.

Chief Minister Channi had urged the Commission to postpone the February 14 Assembly polls by six days in view of Guru Ravidas Jayanti.

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In a letter to Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra, Channi said it was brought to his notice by representatives of the Scheduled Castes community, which is around 32 per cent of the state’s population, that the birth anniversary of Guru Ravidas falls on February 16.

“On this occasion, a large number of SC devotees (about 20 lakh) from the state are likely to visit Banaras in Uttar Pradesh from February 10 to 16,” Channi wrote.

“In such a situation, many people from this community would not be able to cast their votes for the state Assembly, which is otherwise their constitutional right,” he stated in the letter.

The Commission also took inputs from the state government and the Punjab Chief Electoral Officer in this regard.

“After considering these new facts emerging out of these representations, inputs from the State Government and Chief Electoral Officer, past precedence and all facts and circumstances in the matter, now Commission has decided to reschedule the General Elections to Legislative Assembly of Punjab,” it said.

The poll body is mandated under law to hold elections at any time within six months before the five-year term of the Lok Sabha or Legislative Assembly expires.

The polls are timed in such a way that the new Assembly or Lok Sabha is in place on the day of the dissolution of the outgoing House. An election once called usually proceeds as per schedule. However, in some exceptional cases, the process can be postponed or even scrapped after its announcement under extraordinary circumstances.

As per practice, the Commission clubs all elections that are close to each other to ensure that the results in one state do not influence voters in the state going to the polls soon after. The earliest due date of a state determines the poll dates for all the clubbed states.

Under Section 153 of the Representation of the People Act, the poll panel can “extend the time” for completing an election, but such extension should not go beyond the date of the normal dissolution of the Lok Sabha or the Assembly. In 1991, the Commission, under this provision read with Article 324 of the Constitution, postponed parliamentary elections for three weeks following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi during his campaign in Tamil Nadu.

Section 153 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 states: “Extension of time for completion of election — It shall be competent for the Election Commission for reasons which it considers sufficient, to extend the time for the completion of any election by making necessary amendments in the notification…”

In March 2020, elections to 18 Rajya Sabha seats were postponed by the Commission due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In May 2021, the Commission also deferred bye-elections in several states and UTs due to the pandemic.

Former Chief Election Commissioner SY Qureshi, writing in The Indian Express on January 3, explained that the term of the House cannot be extended except in an emergency declared by Parliament, which the Constitution restricts to only two situations — war and breakdown of law and order.

“It is strange that people are talking about banning rallies and postponing elections in the same breath. Banning rallies is an executive order of the EC, the simplest thing to do once an election is announced. Postponing elections is not in their hands at all, and would be a violation of the constitutional mandate that gives every Vidhan Sabha a fixed term. As soon as the term is over, the House stands dissolved automatically.”

“The term of the House cannot be extended except in an emergency declared by Parliament, which the Constitution restricts to only two situations — war and breakdown of law and order. In the seven decades of our electoral history, this has happened only three times — in Assam, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir — in insurgency situations,” he wrote.

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