SMS-based monitoring proved useful: CEO

R Dutta Choudhury

GUWAHATI, April 19 – Widespread use of modern communication facilities to closely monitor the poll process was one of the major highlights of the recently concluded elections to the Assam Legislative Assembly, while, efforts were also on to get the voters’ lists corrected to prevent proxy voting.

Talking to The Assam Tribune today, the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), Assam, H Narzary said that SMS based monitoring helped a great deal in smooth conduct of the elections as the senior officers were well versed with all the developments in the polling stations and could take action whenever required. He said that the NIC developed special software and the mobile numbers of all the presiding officers were fed into the system and they were asked to send SMS to a particular number about every stage of the elections right from the poll parties reaching their respective polling stations. He said that the SMS sent by the presiding officers reached the Returning Officers, District Election Officers, office of the Chief Electoral Officer and even the Election Commission and all the developments could be monitored closely.

Narzary pointed out that at a few polling stations, the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) had to be changed and because of the introduction of the new system, prompt decisions could be taken to do so without wasting any time and voting was not affected. “There was an instance when a candidate was not satisfied with the decision to change the EVM and I could personally speak to him to re-assure him about the requirements because of the introduction of the new system. Some of the presiding officers expressed apprehension that they might have to spend their own money for sending SMS and to deal with the problem, we decided to sanction Rs 20 to each of the presiding officers,” he added.

With the improvement of the mobile service networks in the State, more than 80 per cent of the polling stations were covered by the new system and the police communication network was extensively used in the interior places to keep close watch on the situation.

Opening of a call centre manned round the clock also helped a great deal as the people could call any time of the day with their complaints and to prevent hoax calls, a system to record the numbers and voices of the callers was also introduced.

The CEO said that the efforts of the Election Commission to encourage the voters to come out to exercise their franchise through multimedia campaigns also helped as the overall poll percentage was more than 76. However, he pointed out that the poll percentage in Guwahati East was only 56.57.

Narzary revealed that providing voters’ slip to the voters was another new concept to help the voter’s. But as it has been introduced for the first time, some difficulties were faced in distribution of the slips in the cities and towns. He also revealed that booth level officers had been appointed all over the state through payment of an honorarium of Rs 3,000 a year and they helped a great deal in identifying the voters in the rural areas. The booth level officers have also been given the task of removing the names of the voters who died or who changed their addresses and this step would help in dealing with the problem of proxy voting. It is suspected that the voters’ lists of Assam contained names of at least four lakh people who have died.