Amid opposition by the Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy government, Andhra Pradesh State Election Commissioner Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar on Saturday issued the notification for the first phase of panchayat elections. The state government vehemently opposed to the conduct of the polls, informed the poll body that the time was not conducive for the exercise.
The Andhra Pradesh gram panchayat elections are scheduled to be held in four phases. The first phase of election will be held on February 5, While the second phase will be conducted on February 9. The election commission announced that the third phase is scheduled to be held on February 13 and the fourth phase on February 14. Polling will be held from 6.30 am to 3.30 pm and counting will commence from 4.00 pm on the same day (February 13).
"In exercise of the powers conferred under Article 243 - K of the Constitution of India, the State Election Commission, AP, hereby, calls upon the registered voters in gram panchayats located in the revenue divisions indicated to elect their respective ward members and sarpanches," said Kumar.
Polls will be held in select mandals of the revenue divisions of Srikakulam, Tekkali, Palakonda, Visakhapatnam, Amalapuram, Eluru, Nuziveedu, Guntur, Nellore, Adoni, Penukonda, Jammalamadugu and Tirupati.
In the state capital, a fresh round of wrangling broke out between State Election Commissioner N Ramesh Kumar and the government, with the latter asserting it would be "ready to conduct the elections after 60 days of completion of first round of (COVID-19) vaccination of frontline personnel who would be involved in the polls."
The government clearly adopted a defiant stance, which became evident when the heads of the Panchayat Raj Department skipped an official meeting called by the SEC to discuss the polls.
Panchayat Raj Principal Secretary Gopal Krishna Dwivedi and Commissioner M Girija Shankar were, however, engaged in deliberations with the Chief Secretary Aditya Nath Das after which they drove to the Commission office and handed over a three-page letter of the CS late on Friday night.
The state government maintained it has taken a consistent stand that the present situation in the state is not conducive for conduct of elections and as and when the it improves, the government would abide by the orders of the SEC.
In the letter, a copy of which was released to media, the Chief Secretary turned down the SECs order for removal of nine tainted officers, including two district Collectors and a Superintendent of Police, from duties forthwith.
The Chief Secretary requested the SEC to arrive at a revised schedule for the panchayat polls that would be in compliance with the letter and spirit of the court order that the parties will make all endeavor to ensure that both programmes (elections and vaccination) are conducted smoothly and successfully.
Earlier in the day, SEC Ramesh Kumar called on Governor Biswabhusan Harichandan and apprised him of the high court order and also reportedly complained against "the non-cooperative" attitude of the state government.
Later, the SEC issued proceedings, asking the government to remove Collectors of Chittoor and Guntur districts besides the SP of Tirupati Urban.
"These officers have come under adverse notice of the Commission for their contributory failure in preventing the aberrations in the election process and for incidents of poll violence found to be exceptionable. The recommendation of the Commission is binding on the state government as per settled
poll law," Ramesh Kumar said in the proceedings.
An additional SP, a Deputy SP and four inspectors of police were among those sought to be removed by the SEC.
In his letter to the SEC, the Chief Secretary referred to this directive and maintained that the officers in question were "actively involved in the pandemic situation of COVID-19" and right now engaged in the implementation of the vaccination programme.
(With PTI inputs)