MHA, EC in war of words over J&K bypoll

New Delhi: The holding of the Srinagar Lok Sabha bypoll, which saw large-scale violence yesterday, led to a war of words between the Election Commission and the Home Ministry, which suggested its advice that atmosphere was not conducive for the polls was "ignored".

The Election Commission hit back saying it is not bound to consult the central government before holding any election.

The bypoll yesterday saw large-scale violence resulting in at least eight deaths.

Immediately after the announcement of schedule for the byelections on March 10, the Home Ministry had sent a strongly worded letter to the Commission saying there was no prior consultation with it regarding the bypolls in Srinagar and Anantnag constituencies.

The Home Ministry had advised that polling should be delayed and preferably held after panchayat elections are conducted in the next few months.

However, the Election Commission ignored the Home Ministry's advice and went ahead, sources in the ministry said today.

While polling in Srinagar was held on Sunday, byelection in Anantnag will be held on Wednesday.

Later, the Commission sought to reject the claims of the MHA, saying it was its constitutional obligation to hold the bypoll for Srinagar parliamentary constituency before April 16.

"State government was consulted on the subject as it is responsible for law and order and security issues. MHA is only responsible to provide central paramilitary forces. ECI is not bound to consult MHA before holding any elections," an EC source said.

The source said the state government had apprised the Commission that the preparation for free, fair and peaceful elections are being made and a comprehensive deployment plan was also worked out by Jammu and Kashmir police.

"ECI is responsible for overall assessment of prevailing situation for holding elections. In the assessment of EC, if prevailing conditions were conducive for holding of Panchayat elections by the state government, then holding of parliamentary elections is also possible," the source pointed out.

The EC sources said in the case of Manipur, MHA had wanted to postpone the assembly elections there.

"That too was unsolicited advise. But EC went by its own assessment and held peaceful polls recently. Even the Supreme Court had observed that it is the EC not the MHA who would make assessment of environment of conducting elections," the source said.

There were 190 incidents of stone pelting, 120 polling boths were made dysfunctional, 24 EVMs were looted, two schools burnt down, eight people were killed and 150 others were injured in Srinagar yesterday.

Sources in the home ministry said for holding the bypolls in both the constituencies, the Election Commission held a meeting with a Joint Secretary on March 17 and sought 300 companies (30,000 personnel) of paramilitary forces and the request was duly accepted and fulfilled.

The number of paramilitary personnel sought by the EC was very high. But despite presence of a large number of security personnel, the violence yesterday was unusually high, they said.

There is an atmosphere of fear in both the constituencies following the poll boycott call given by the separatists.

Besides, such large-scale violence had not taken place in the Kashmir Valley in a single day in last 15 years, the sources said.

Normal life has been affected in the Kashmir Valley due to the strike called by separatists. Shops, fuel stations and other business establishments were shut, while attendance in banks and government offices was low.

Internet services remained suspended for the second day today. Public transport was off the roads, while private transport was minimal.