In a meeting with the representatives of the political parties held here today, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Maneesh Garg revealed that as per the schedule of the ECI, the counting of votes of assembly elections recently held in the State will start at 8 AM on 8th December, 2022 in 68 counting centers all over the state.
The first counting rehearsal will be done for the staff to be deployed for the purpose on 2nd or 3rd December and the second rehearsal will take place on 7th of December, a day before counting day, said he, adding that the serial numbers of the training EVMs to be used for hand-on training, can be conveyed to the candidates.
CEO said that each candidate is allowed to appoint as many counting agents as the number of counting tables, besides one at Returning Officer (RO) table and for postal ballots. He said that the Returning Officers (ROs) would inform the candidates about the total number of counting agents they are entitled to appoint. The counting agents would be required to fill Form-18 and their request to be appointed as counting agents would not be entertained on plain paper. The ROs should obtain the list of counting agents in Form-18 in duplicate with their photograph and identity cards from all the contesting candidates by 5 PM till 4th December, 2022. No requests will be entertained for appointing counting agents after that.
The declaration of counting agents in Form-18 is to be signed by a counting agent in the presence of RO. Counting of postal ballot papers will be taken up at 8 AM and the EVM counting can start at 8:30 AM and will go on irrespective of the stage of postal ballot counting. He said once the EVM counting is completed, the VVPAT slips counting would start with 5 VVPATs randomly selected.
The strong rooms would be opened in the presence of ROs/ AROs, candidates, election agents and ECI observer after making necessary entries in the log book maintained for the purpose. The entire proceeding will be video graphed as well.
CEO said no that no candidate or agent would be allowed to take mobile phones, I-Pad, laptops and any other recording device in the counting hall. Elucidating further, he said that counting agent should be a citizen of India and above 18 years of age. However, the following persons who cannot be appointed as counting agents are any sitting Minister of union or state government, sitting member of parliament, sitting MLA, chairperson of urban local bodies, mayor of a corporation, chairperson of a municipality, nagar panchayat, chairperson of zila parishad and block samiti, elected chairperson of national, state and district co-operative institutions, political functionaries appointed as chairperson of government bodies, government pleaders or additional government pleaders or any government servant.
There is no such restriction that only local persons shall be permitted to become counting agents. Apart from this, there is no prohibition in appointing an NRI who is a citizen of India as counting agent and councillors, ward members, sarpanch and other bodies/ heads as counting agents, subject to the condition that they are not provided any security by the Government.
Three tier security system guarding the strong rooms
The CEO said that all contesting candidates can depute their representatives to keep a close watch on the security arrangements of the strong rooms. The political party representatives were allowed stay outside the outermost parameter in the tents erected for the purpose, which would enable them to view the entry points of the strong rooms.
He said that facilities such as proper shade, drinking water, toilets etc. would be provided to them, besides if there was no direct view of the strong rooms, CCTVs would be arranged at such a location that they can see the strong room doors on CCTV.
He said, if desired, that they can also be taken periodically to the inner parameter of strong rooms in batches, to see, verify regarding the strong room security. A log book entry will be made by the in-charge Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) for any person entering in inner corridor.
He said that there was a three tier guarding system for the strong rooms. The first tier, which is the innermost parameter, was guarded by CAPF armed guards 24×7. For this purpose, a minimum one platoon of CAPF is deployed to guard the strong rooms round the clock. The second tier was of state armed Police and the third of district executive force.
Earlier, the CEO welcomed the representatives of the various political parties and congratulated them for peaceful electoral process as no such untoward incident was reported thereby upholding the rich tradition of democracy.