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EC sends special officers for counting of votes in Varanasi, Meerut

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New Delhi, Mar 9: The Election Commission of India on Wednesday deputed special officers to supervise counting of votes in Meerut and Varanasi amid complaints from opposition parties about alleged irregularities in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls.

EC sends special officers for counting of votes in Varanasi, Meerut

Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Delhi has been sent as a special officer to oversee the counting process in Meerut and Bihar's CEO to Varanasi. The counting of votes for the recently-concluded assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Manipur, Punjab and Uttarakhand will begin at 8 am on Thursday.

Besides the five states, counting of votes for the by-election to Majuli assembly seat of Assam will also take place on Thursday. Altogether, 671 counting observers, 130 police observers and 10 special observers will be on the ground to ensure the counting process is smooth, the Commission said.

"The Commission has also deputed two special officers -- CEO Delhi (Ranbir Singh) to Meerut and CEO Bihar (H R Srinivas) to Varanasi -- to supervise the counting arrangements," it added. In the past also, electoral officers from different states have been deployed as special observers or special officers keeping in mind the sensitivities, EC Secretary General Umesh Sinha told reporters.

The Samajwadi Party (SP) has alleged that electronic voting machines (EVMs) were transported without the knowledge of political parties in Varanasi on Tuesday. Earlier, there were allegations of violation of protocol during polling in Meerut. The poll panel officials have already rejected the allegations that EVMs used for voting in just-concluded polls were moved out.

The voting took place in seven phases in Uttar Pradesh, beginning February 10 and ending on March 7. "EC had been deploying special observers wherever it has felt that the supervision needs to be strengthened. The incident which took place in Varanasi on Tuesday -- the Commission took a swift decision. We wanted to send an officer who is fully aware of the electoral process.

"Similarly, there were reports in newspapers on Meerut, we have sent CEO Delhi," Senior Deputy Election Commissioner Chandra Bhushan Kumar said. He was responding to a query on why these two districts were identified for sending special observers. When asked about allegations levelled by the SP on unauthorised movement of EVMs, EC Secretary General Sinha said training EVM is totally different. It cannot be used for polling and it has a different branding.

"There have been some rumours related to EVMs etc., which are totally unrelated to polled EVMs and in each case of slightest breach of protocol, swift action has been taken by the Commission against the officers concerned. "No person should indulge in any rumour mongering or spreading wrongful information. The Commission has directed CEOs and district administration to take strictest legal action against such mongers and mischief," the EC said in a statement. As far as breach of protocol is concerned, EC took action when it received information, said Kumar.

Three officials were removed from election duty in Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday, a day after the SP alleged that the electronic voting machines were shifted in an unauthorised manner. The officials were replaced on the directions of the Election Commission. The nodal officer for EVMs in Varanasi, a returning officer (RO) in Sonbhadra district and an additional election officer in Bareilly district have been pulled out from election duties, a day ahead of the counting of votes in Uttar Pradesh. The EC said elaborate and foolproof arrangements have been made at all the counting centres.

"All strong rooms, where polled EVMs are kept, are under three-layered security with inner cordon manned by central armed forces. Candidates concerned have been watching the strong room arrangements through CCTV coverage of 24x7," it added. In states where polls were held recently, the district administration has imposed prohibitory orders around the counting halls to ensure that peace and tranquility is not disturbed, it said. Political parties and their candidates are also involved at each stage related to EVM deployment during elections, the EC said.

Counting of votes will be taken up for postal ballots at 8 am on Thursday and will continue till its completion. After a gap of 30 minutes from the commencement of counting of postal ballot papers, counting of votes for EVM will commence at 8.30 am.

"EVM counting shall continue irrespective of the stage of postal ballot counting..." the EC statement said. In case the margin of victory is less than the number of postal ballot papers rejected as invalid at the time of counting, all the rejected postal ballot papers will be mandatorily re-verified by the RO before declaration of result. "Whenever such re-verification is done, the entire proceedings should be videographed...," the poll panel added. PTI

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