ASSEMBLY POLLS|'Special observers' meet ECI, to visit J&K tomorrow

Three “special observers” appointed by the election commission of India (ECI) are arriving in Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday to “assess the ground situation” for holding the assembly polls in the state.

A source told Greater Kashmir Tuesday that the team of observers comprising former IAS officers Vinod Zutshi and Noor Muhammad, and former IPS officer A S Gill, will interact with representatives of mainstream political parties and officials from the civil and police administrations.

“The team is expected to visit both Srinagar and Jammu to get feedback from different stakeholders to help the poll-body in arriving at a decision on holding the state assembly polls,” the source said, adding that the ECI will thereafter take a decision.

The source said the ECI requested the special observers to undertake a visit to the state at the earliest.

The observers met the chief election commissioner Sunil Arora and election commissioners Ashok Lavasa and Sushil Chandra at the ECI headquarters in New Delhi on Tuesday.

During the interactive session which lasted for almost two hours, deputy election commissioner Sandeep Saxena—in-charge of J&K—briefed them about election-related preparations in the state as well as the security scenario there.  The commission also discussed with them their “roles and responsibilities.”

On March 10, the ECI said it would be holding only the parliament polls in Jammu and Kashmir and not the assembly elections “due to security reasons”.

The ECI’s decision, however, drew widespread criticism from mainstream political parties, including the National Conference, PDP and Congress.

The state is presently under president’s rule following expiry of six months of governor’s rule in December last year. The 87-member state assembly plunged into a political crisis after the Bharatiya Janata Party withdrew support to the PDP government led by Mehbooba Mufti in June last year.

On November 21, the state assembly was dissolved by governor Satya Pal Malik after the Peoples Democratic Party and Peoples Conference staked separate claim for forming a government in the state.

As per a Supreme Court ruling, the ECI has to initiate steps for holding the elections within six months after dissolution of the House. In case of Jammu and Kashmir, the six-month deadline ends on May 20.

As per the mandate, the three central observers would be required to visit the state and make a real time assessment of the situation by meeting political parties, district and state authorities and other stakeholders.

An Indian Administrative Service officer of the 1977 batch, Noor Mohammad is a former secretary to the central government and has worked more than a decade in the fields of election management as chief electoral officer of Uttar Pradesh, deputy election commissioner in the EC, and international expert and consultant on election in Afghanistan for many years.

Zutshi, a 1982 batch IAS officer, was also secretary to the central government and also has wide experience for more than a decade in elections at the state level as CEO, Rajasthan and deputy election commissioner for more than five years.

A 1972 batch Indian police service officer, Gill has wide experience in field of security management in difficult areas. Having served as an inspector general of the Central Reserve Police Force in Jammu and Kashmir between 1995-97, he retired as chief of the paramilitary force.