Srinagar, Nov 23: In a glaring instance of official indifference, the Jammu and Kashmir government is yet to issue Electoral Photo Identity Cards (EPICs) to about 50 percent voters in the state.
The exercise, which began in 2006, is yet to see an end, exposing the mismanagement in the Chief Electoral Office in Jammu and Kashmir and also the “overlooking” by the Election Commission of India (ECI). In reply to a Right to Information application, the ECI has revealed that only 54 percent electorate in Jammu and Kashmir have been provided with the EPICs so far.
The figure is lowest in Jammu and Kashmir while in states like Haryana, Kerala, Meghalaya, Tripura and Pondicherry, all the voters have been provided with the EPICs.
The ECI has provided the information to an application filed by an RTI activist from Poonch, Ayaz Mughal, who is also a member of the J&K RTI Movement, a non-governmental organization.
“As on 16 March this year, 3,555,444 EPIC IDs had been issued against 6,534,542 electors in Jammu and Kashmir on the 2009 voter rolls,” the ECI reply says. According to officials, the EPIC system was developed after the Election Commission of India decided to computerize the electoral rolls in 1998. In Jammu and Kashmir, the EPIC exercise began in 2006. It was decided to provide the voters with EPICs to bring about transparency in the electoral exercises.
According to observers, the ECI has provided millions of rupees to the state government to reimburse Rs 25 to each voter on account of getting himself photographed. But the money has not been provided to them. “Only 10 to 20 percent voters were provided this amount by the concerned officials of state Revenue Department,” said Dr Muzaffar Bhat, the Convener J&K RTI Movement. “The money seems to have been misappropriated. We are contemplating to file another RTI in this regard and see how much money has the ECI released and how much has been provided to the voters.”
People have begun to question the seriousness of the ECI and CEO in getting the EPICs prepared. “That time the CEO expressed deep desire to issue the EPICs in time. But when they failed to do so till 2008 elections, then the ECI had to issue a list of documents that the voters can use during the then assembly elections, and also the parliamentary elections later,” said Ghulam Qadir, a voter who hasn’t received his EPIC.
“This clearly shows that the officials in the CEO have failed to carry out the work despite the availability of money. Also, we are bound to question the expenditure on this account because people on ground have neither received money, nor the cards,” Bhat said.
The RTI application comes at a time when the state is contemplating to hold the Panchayati elections.
In the past, the officials in the CEO claimed to provide all the EPICs “as soon as possible.”
While it failed to do so, many of the EPICs issued so far carried incorrect information. In some cases, even the gender and date of birth of the voters had been changed.
Pertinently the EPICs have been made mandatory for holding free, fair and transparent elections.
Sources said there was confusion and lack of planning during the preparation of cards. “There was jumbling of photos and spelling mistakes in the forms collected by the authorities. The exercise was not done in a planned manner. There were mistakes in the voter lists as well which later got reflected in the cards,” they said.
Ayaz Mughal had raised the following questions in the RTI application before the ECI on October 17 this year: What amount of money has been spent by the Election Commission for the purpose of providing Election Photo Identity Cards to voters in J&K from the year 2008 to till date? Which agency has been assigned by the ECI for the above said purpose? How many voter cards have been issued EPIC cards in J&K? In what period of time all the voters shall be issued EPIC cards in J&K? Do the Election Commission pay money for the photographs? If yes, how much? What is the total number of EPIC card holders in India? Is it true that the old EPIC cards (issued in 2002-03) have been declared void/invalid?
While the ECI has responded to some questions, some have been left unanswered, particularly the amount of money that has been spent on the exercise so far. “The matter should be probed by an independent agency,” said a government officer, insisting not to be named. “Per se it seems that the public money has been looted. So it becomes imperative for the state government to probe the matter and bring the facts before the people.”
‘TWO MORE YEARS’
The Chief Electoral Officer, BR Sharma, said the issuance of EPICs was a continuous process. “It will take us another two years to complete the process,” he said, without divulging why it took the CEO time to complete the exercise, which has already been completed in many other states.
He said the reimbursement money has been released to the Deputy Commissioners. “Every single penny has been released,” he said.