Hyderabad: National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (NIRDPR) is hosting a Two-Day All India State Election Commissioners’ (SEC) Conclave on 9th and 10th January 2020. The objective is to take stock of the gains made and challenges faced by the State Election Commissions (SECs) in conducting timely and free elections to local bodies as more than two decades since the promulgation of 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments.
NIRDPR and State Election Commission, Telangana, are jointly organizing this Conclave of State Election Commissioners’ at the NIRDPR campus here. The Conclave is being attended by 40 delegates from across the country.
The Conclave was inaugurated by Sri. G. Kishan Reddy, Hon’ble Minister of State for Home Affairs, Government of India.
While delivering the inaugural address, G. Kishan Reddy, Hon’ble Minister of State for Home Affairs, Government of India, recalled the concept of “Gram Swaraj” of Mahatma Gandhi who wanted to see each village a little republic, self-sufficient in its vital wants.
Recalling the Independence Day speech of Sri Narendra Modi, Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, G. Kishan Reddy said that one way of involving a common man in governance is strengthening our local Governments. The local bodies in the country are the essential features of democracy. He reminded that it is the responsibility of every citizen to cherish it, protect it and promote it.
He then touched upon on few key issues of the electoral process such as timely conduct of elections, reducing the money and muscle power in the elections. The Hon’ble Minister called upon the SECs to make the elections credible by following a transparent electoral process.
G. Kishan Reddy mentioned that Telangana State Election Commission is launching a pilot project using face recognition technology to check photo electoral rolls in the forthcoming municipal elections and the use of technology in the electoral process enhances its credibility.
Kishan Reddy made a special mention about the Panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir, which has re-established grass-root democracy there. Because of these elections, Panchayats of J&K have received their 14th Finance Commission funds meant for their welfare. He appreciated NIRDPR in having supported the Jammu and Kashmir to conduct the training to the newly elected Sarpanchas and ward members
The Minister lauded all the State Election Commissioners and Dr. WR. Reddy IAS, Director General, NIRDPR, for their contribution to nation-building and expressed hope that the collective inputs received during the conclave will help the states to bring the local body elections to centre stage
Delivering the Welcome Address, Dr. W.R. Reddy IAS, Director General, NIRDPR, informed the delegates that the groundwork for the 73rd Constitutional Amendment was done at NIRDPR. He congratulated the State Election Commissioners for guarding the democracy by conducting free and fair elections to 3.5 million elected representatives every 5 years. He said that the participation of people in the Gram Sabah is not encouraging and there is need to create awareness among the Gram Sabah members to participate in the Gram Sabhas to make Indian democracy vibrant.
The Director-General, NIRDPR, said all the SECs in the country create a huge repository of data about the voters, contesting and elected candidates. As part of research work, Scholars can now work on the wide range of large-scale datasets, to establish new empirical trends in the democratic contexts and to gain deep insights into voter behaviour at a local body level
Delivering the keynote address, V. Nagi Reddy, SEC Telangana, said, “Article 243E of the constitution of India stipulated that elections to each local body have to be completed before the completion of the term of the sitting body. Though timely conducting elections is a constitutionally mandated requirement, the SECs cannot decide on the dates and the number of phases of elections. The SECs for functioning effectively, have to depend on the State Government both for funds as well as manpower.”
V Nagi Reddy further said, “Local Governments are Nurseries of Political Leadership”. But there have been several instances where elections to local bodies were postponed by the States on one plea or the other.
He rightly mentioned that delaying elections amounts to a violation of the constitution and denying the citizens of their democratic rights of elected local governments. He stressed upon on principle of parity between parliamentary and assembly elections, on the one hand, and Panchayat elections, on the other. He called upon the delegates to deliberate to bring some commonality in the election procedures and provisions so as to make the local body election process more credible.
Delivering a special address, Sri. Sunil Kumar, Secretary, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India, said that to strengthen grass-root democracy and also for free and fair polls, networking and reaching out to stakeholders was necessary. The key stakeholders in the local body elections include the Voters, Civil Society Organizations, Academicians, State Governments Ministry of Panchayati Raj and Training Institutes. An integrated approach of these stakeholders will certainly benefit in terms of increasing the voters’ awareness and to deepen and flourish our democracy.
Speaking later, A. K. Chauhan, Chairman, Standing Committee of SECs and State Election Commissioner, Bihar, said that the major constraints being faced by the SECs are Funds and Manpower. He urged the Central and State Governments to make necessary budget allocations to SECs so that they can become more proactive and work for creating an eco-system to ensure free and fair elections to local bodies.
The inaugural session concluded with vote of thanks presented by Ms. Radhika Rastogi Deputy Director-General, NIRDPR.