Election Special with State Election Commissioner Shri J.S. Saharia
On Friday the 10th of February, 2017, V Citizens Action Network (VCAN) held the first Social Sanchar of the new year with Shri. Jageshwar S. Saharia, the State Election Commissioner, at the Royal Bombay Yacht Club, Colaba. Through this interaction, Citizens gained valuable insights into Election procedures and processes, as well as on pertinent Election related issues, all with the objective of becoming a “Smart Voter”.
Shri J.S. Saharia is a 1978 batch IAS Officer, who joined the administrative services after completing an M.Sc. in Physics from the University of Allahabad. He has also completed an LLB from Nagpur University, and MBAs from IIM Ahmedabad, and the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom.
Among the several key posts he held during his career were Municipal Commissioner of Nagpur, Divisional Commissioner, and Vice Chancellor of Nagpur University. He rose to the position of Chief Secretary to the Government of Maharashtra before retiring in 2014, and being appointed as the State Election Commissioner, that same year.
Mrs. Indrani Malkani, Managing Trustee, V Citizens Actions Network started the programme off with an introduction of V Citizens Actions Network, and an explanation of how the Social Sanchar was to be conducted, also briefly speaking on the topic at hand.
Shri V. Ranganathan, a Trustee of VCAN, and also a former Chief Secretary, then introduced Shri Saharia, and also outlined the importance of the topic, and the need for citizens to be involved in the Election Process, particularly at the Local Body level. Citizens interact with the Municipal Authorities on virtually a daily basis. He also noted the historically low Voter turnout in Mumbai, particularly in Local Body Elections. In addition, he made mention of the need of accommodating all sections of voters, particularly the differently abled, of whom there were many in the audience.
Mr. Saharia started off his address by thanking all the Trustees of VCAN, as well as the audience present at the venue. He then began by explaining the role of the State Election Commissioner, the evolution of Elections to Local Bodies, the things that the Constitution expects from the Election Commissioner, and what is expected by the Constitution from all the Citizens.
He also stated that in 1994 the first State Election Commissioner for Maharashtra was appointed, and since then after every 5 years, Local Body Elections have taken place regularly. To give some perspective to the audience, he mentioned that there are around 11 to 12 crore people staying in Maharashtra out of which 8 to 9 crore people are registered to vote. These 9 crore voters not only elect 48 Members of Parliament, and 288 Members of the State Legislature, but also elect more than 2,50,000 members to 28000 local bodies every 5 years!
The main objective of the State Election Commission (SEC) is thus to conduct free, fair and transparent elections with maximum peoples’ participation. He also mentioned that in the rural areas the voting percentage is higher than the urban areas, the voting percentage in rural areas being as high as 82-85% whereas, in smaller urban bodies it’s around 65-70% and as we move towards the Municipal Corporation it falls to 50-55%.
Mr. Saharia shocked the audience by informing them that in Mumbai, the voting percentage is around 44%, with some ‘elite’ areas having turnouts of only 25-30%. These alarming statistics revealed by Mr. Saharia made people aware of how most of the people do not participate in making their own Government.
The Model Code of Conduct was also explained to the audience, and the duty of the SEC towards the Citizens was also touched upon by him, including providing convenient polling stations and curbing electoral malpractices and influencing of voters. He also mentioned some pertinent statistics on the upcoming elections, also briefing the audience about the new Mobile Apps.
The first App is a FAQ App, with nearly 2000 frequently asked questions listed in the App. The second App is the “True Voter” App. The App allows a voter to search his name and polling station in the Voter List, navigate to his Polling Station, and allows for Candidates to submit their daily election related expenditure. The third app is called Citizens On Patrol or “COP”. It enables any citizen to report violations of the Model Code of Conduct, turning every citizen in the city into the eyes and ears of the Election Commission.
He then mentioned that various details about the candidate, as reported in their declaration, will be publicised in newspapers as well as in the Polling Stations. He concluded by stating the importance of each and every Citizen’s Vote, and appreciated the efforts taken by the banks, hotels and other corporate houses to raise the voting percentage. He emphasised especially on the role of the youth, and the efforts of Universities, and organisations such as the NSS and others.
The audience, both those at the venue and those online, was then invited to ask questions.
The first question asked was when was the last update done of the voter’s list. To this, Shri Saharia replied that the Election Commission of India continuously updates the Voter’s list which is used by the State Election Commission as the registrations of new voters takes place. The voter list is then divided into different wards from the various Assembly Constituencies after fixing a cut-off date, in the case of the current elections, the cut-off date was 5th January 2017.
To questions raised on the delay in getting a Voter ID Card, Shri Saharia answered that they are taking proper measures to improve the system in the coming months.
A large number of differently abled people were eager to know if there are any special arrangements made for them on the Polling Stations to which Shri. Saharia replied that there are various arrangements like ramps, and braille voting machines, as well as instructions to allow their vehicles within 100 metres from the polling station, and training to sensitise volunteers and officials on the needs of differently abled Voters.
Shri B.G. Pawar, Deputy Municipal Commissioner, MCGM, who was also present at the venue, represented the MCGM, as Shri Sanjay Deshmukh Addl. Municipal Commissioner was unable to attend at the last minute due to an unavoidable urgent matter, and answered various queries on behalf of the Election Department of the Municipal Corporation.
To a question on who to report the violation of the model code of conduct, Shri Pawar mentioned that there were two helpline numbers, accessible from landlines, open to citizens, namely 1292 and 1293, as well as the COP mobile app.
In reply to a question on the issue of housing societies that have residents moving from one area to another having to change their Electoral information, Shri Saharia said that while the SEC is making efforts in this regard, the residents and Managing Committees of such societies need to take the initiative as well, and that there have been cases where Election Officials have not even been allowed to enter certain high end societies by the Security Guards.
On the issue of training of Elected Officials, Mrs. Malkani said that training to new corporators was provided by the MCGM, Shri Saharia emphasised that any restrictions on Candidates being allowed to stand for elections due to Educational qualifications could only be addressed by Parliament, and no other Body.
When asked about online voting, Shri Saharia said that while it was under consideration, there were certain issues to be worked out, and to a question on blocking of roads for Political rallies, Shri Pawar replied that there were certain areas without large grounds for gatherings, thus by compulsion, they had to allow some gatherings.
On the updation of Electoral Rolls resulting in deletions of names, Shri Pawar explained the steps taken in this regard, and requested Voters to check their names periodically.
Shri Saharia also replied to a question on CCTV Cameras at voting booths by saying that though not all Voting Booths were monitored, certain troubled areas with a history of incidents were kept under CCTV surveillance.
A memento was then presented by the Trustees to Shri Saharia, as he made a final appeal to the audience to ensure they voted. In his concluding remarks, Shri Saharia said that the actions of Citizens matter and that he is expecting the Voting percentage to increase this time.
While there were some whose questions were unable to be answered during the event, they were assured that their questions were to be forwarded to Shri Saharia, and that he and his office would go through them and reply via email. The guests present at the venue were then invited to continue their interactions over tea and refreshments provided by the Royal Bombay Yacht Club.
To view the photos of the event click here.
To view the video of the event click here.
To view media coverage of the event, including Press clippings, click here.