Mona Sharma provides her views on policy issues and the technological issues that lie at the core our electoral system. In conversation with Nayana Singh
Please provide an overview of the initiatives being undertaken by your department to ensure that elections are conducted smoothly in the state.
The conduct of elections for the Parliament and Assembly is governed by the rules, regulations and procedures prescribed by the Election Commission of India. It is quite well-greased machinery and the systems are well set all over the country including in our State. At present we are focusing on improving the quality of electoral roll. This includes enrolment of all the eligible voters especially the young voters and the socio-economically backward and marginalized sections of the society, and deletion of names of the voters who have died or shifted from their original place of enrolment. Steps are being taken to ensure that the citizens have their name at one place only in the electoral roll in the State.
What kind of ICT solutions are you using to bring more efficiency in the functioning of your department?
ICT is the extensively and effectively used in the conduct of free and fair poll. The entire electoral roll is available on the website of the Department i.e. www.ceoorissa.nic.in. Any voter can get the details of the enrolment using the search facility provided in the website. Further all the polling stations have been shown on the Google map giving the contact details of the officials and functionaries responsible for maintenance of electoral roll. Any citizen can apply online for addition, deletion or correction of his name in the electoral roll utilizing the above facilities in the CEOs website.
What steps are you taking to ensure that you have adequate support of all political parties that are participating in the democratic process?
For more effective and active participation of political parties in the electoral process, regular interactions with the political parties are taken up at the level of Chief Electoral Officer, District Election Officers and Electoral Registration Officers. All the political parties are also supplied hard and soft copies of the Electoral Roll. The list of all the voters who are either added or deleted in the electoral roll are shared with the political parties at the appropriate level in addition to its detailed display in the website of the Department The political parties also appoint their booth level agents at the time of revision of the electoral roll and polling agents at the polling station level at the time of election.
What is your view of the kind of impact that the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) are having?
With the electronic voting machines (EVMs), the electoral process including counting has become easier. Use of EVMs for election through out the country is an important milestone.
There is a popular mindset among the people that voting will not change anything.
Fortunately in Odisha voter turn out at the time of elections has been encouraging over the years. SVEEP activities are being taken up throughout the State to motivate the voters to enroll and actively participate in the election process. 25th January is being celebrated as National Voters Day from the year 2011. 22 lakh voters were issued EPIC after the summary revision 2013 on the National Voters Day.
During election times we keep hearing about problems and even violence happening in certain constituencies. What can be done to make elections peaceful?
At the time of election, a detailed election plan is prepared by the District Election Officers for peaceful conduct of election. The sensitive polling booths are identified in advance and there is additional deployment of force in the sensitive booths. In addition, there are Supervising Officers in the Mobile Squad and Mobile Police Force are deployed at the time of election to prevent any untoward incidence.
It has been suggested that voting can be done through mobile phones. Do you think that is feasible?
Not in the immediate future. At present we only have the system where people come to the polling stations to cast their ballot. Postal ballots are cast by defence personnel, state armed forces, persons working in foreign embassies.
People with criminal backgrounds are coming and exercising their voting rights, what steps are you taking to ensure that only decent people come to vote?
The Representation of People Act, 1950 and the rules there in define who are eligible/not eligible to vote. All the citizens who have name in their electoral rolls and are not debarred by the related act and rules can cast their vote at the time of election. On the issue of criminals getting elected, there is need for amendment in the Representation of People Act for which Law Commission constituted by the Government of India has already given its recommendation to the Union Government.