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Election commissioner dismisses complaints of lack of level-playing field in J&K DDC polls

SRINAGAR: The Jammu and Kashmir State Election Commissioner on Monday dismissed complaints of lack of a level-playing field in the DDC polls, saying the panel will ensure that all political parties have an equal opportunity to undertake election-related activities.

The People''s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), an alliance of several mainstream parties seeking restoration of the erstwhile state''s special status which was revoked by the Centre last year, had on Saturday accused the administration of not allowing their candidates to campaign under the guise of protecting them from threats.

In a two-page letter to SEC K K Sharma, PAGD president Farooq Abdullah, claimed that security was being used as a pretext to impede and customise democracy in the union territory and that there was a lack of a level-playing field for major political parties.

The District Development Council (DDC) polls will be held between November 28 and December 19.

Addressing a press conference, Sharma said the commission has discussed Abdullah''s letter and arrangements will be put in place so that the candidates who want to go for campaigning are able to do that.

"After I received the letter, I discussed the issues in detail with the divisional administration. We have written a letter to them as well. It is imperative to secure the lives of the candidates, but at the same time, full arrangements and more arrangements will be provided so that the candidates and other people who want to go for campaigning, they are able to do that," Sharma said.

The SEC said after the media reports that the candidates of some parties were in cluster accommodations and facing difficulty in campaigning, the commission discussed the issue with all the district administrations.

"...Candidates have been taken to cluster accommodations, the goal is not to prevent them for campaigning. The complaint that some are being prevented from campaigning is false," he said.

The goal of the SEC is to conduct safe elections and if a candidate faces any difficulty, it could be security related, but it does not mean that they will not go out for campaigning, he said.

Sharma said the candidates should contact the respective SSP, DCs or, if needed, him to highlight any issue being faced by them.

"We will immediately pass on instructions to police and DC to address the issues," he said.

He said keeping in view the security situation, it is very important that the candidates visit to their constituency is planned in advance so that there is no risk to their life.

"Human life is very precious, it needs to be protected, but at the same time, the police have been given directions and instructions by me that they will make the security arrangements and make sure the candidates go for campaigning wherever they want," he said.

He assured there was "fair play" and that the elections will be conducted in a fair manner.

"We will ensure that all political parties have equal opportunity both for campaigning and for undertaking all election related activities," he said.

Referring to the arrangements for the candidates, Sharma said, they have been put up at cluster accommodations only for their security, but vehicles have been provided to all of them for their use.

"There are two types of candidates in Kashmir - one already protected persons who have their security and the other the new candidates who are contesting for the first time, who do not have security," he said.

"It is the administration''s job to secure their lives and there are clear instructions that more and more opportunities have to be provided to all the candidates," he added.

He said several companies of CAPFs have been deployed and additional companies are moving to other districts, describing the security measures as adequate.

"Our overall assessment is that adequate, in fact, very comfortable amount of police force from outside and inside the state is available. All the districts have designed plans for securing the routes and the areas wherever candidates go for campaigning, and importantly, for the movement of polling parties on the polling days," he said.

The SEC said the commission has taken a comprehensive review of the arrangements for the polls in the Kashmir valley at a meeting of the district magistrates on Sunday and Monday.

"All arrangements for the polls have been put in place by the respective district administrations. Police have also deployed all its resources for securing the elections... CAPFs have arrived in J&K and an adequate number of security forces are available for dealing with the situation and providing security in all the districts of Kashmir," he said.

Sharma said police protection is being provided to the candidates for campaigning as well as those who have won the polls uncontested so that they feel secure.

This is an important election and it will be a historic goal for us to establish DDCs in Jammu and Kashmir, he added.

"The number of candidates and parties participating in these elections is huge which means our citizens want to participate in these elections to strengthen democracy," he said.

The first phase of the polls in taking place on November 28 and the voting time is from 7 am to 2 pm.

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PTI