Goa is gearing up for elections to be held on April 23; both, Lok Sabha, and by-elections in three constituencies. With the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) currently in force in the state, the Election Commission is alert and is keeping a close watch on activities, working to ensure that there are no violations. NT BUZZ lists out how citizens can contribute to a free and fair election process
VENITA GOMES| NT BUZZ
With two seats up for grabs in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls in North and South Goa along with three seats for the by-poll elections in Shiroda, Mandrem and Mapusa, elections of which will be held on Tuesday, April 23, the Model Code of Conduct (MCC)has been enforced since March 10. While mostly political parties, and respective candidates are in the knowhow of the term, ‘Model Code of Conduct’, not many people are aware of the nitty gritty this phrase contains. A set of guidelines which citizens, political parties, candidates, and officials, during the course of period need to adhere, the MCC is a detailed specification of guidelines and do’s and don’ts that we should be aware of and understand the importance. NT BUZZ highlights a few of them.
Restriction on liquor
Goa is known to be a state not averse to alcohol. There are approximately 10,600 licensed bars and liquor shops operating. Peoples’ love for liquor is used many a times during election and is lured by political parties or candidates to secure their vote. Therefore, the Election Commission imposes certain restrictions on the sale, storage, and serving of liquor and other intoxicants. There are strict restrictions on serving or distributing liquor on polling day or during the 48 hours of election period under Section 135 (c) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. Additional chief electoral officer, Narayan Sawant mentions that there have been seizures of liquor in the past. “We have the flying squad of excise, commercial, and income tax, stakeholders who are connected to us and help us in keeping a watch on people. If they come across any violation then they take action,” he said.
Personnel from the excise department tells us that while sale of liquor is banned after 11 p.m., they are sent across the state to keep a tab on liquor outlets, bars, and people gathered in groups at suspicious places.
Many a times, you may have noticed Election Commission members removing posters, banners, flags put up at public areas.
Even if one erects flag staffs, puts up banners it amounts to violation. “An act is already enforced in Goa it prevents the defacement of public property. Banners, poster, or any bill which are stuck on public property or public viewpoint tends to come under violation. This act is enforced throughout the year however, it has not been followed as it should have,” says Sawant. Here politicians are also refrained from giving sponsorship, sanctioning schemes, grants, etc as it also could amount to influencing voters. However, candidates can seek prior permission for puting up campaign material.
In the name of religion
Candidates often try means and ways to reach out to voters. There are even instances of voters being influenced by religious organisations or leaders. Therefore, there are limitations imposed on anyone using temples, mosques, churches, gurudwaras or any place of worship for election propaganda, including speeches, posters, music etc.
It might sound bizarre, but use of animals for election campaign or in any election process is a strict no-no. And, the law does not permit such acts. Many parties may have a reserved symbol depicting an animal, but they use them as part of their election campaign.
Speaking in public
There are times when there are questions whether central minister, chief minister or any minister can participate in celebrations of national importance. Yes! There is no restriction when it comes to attending events of national importance like Republic Day, Gandhi Jayanti, Sadbhawana Diwas, State Day, etc. But, they should note that, in their speeches under no circumstance can it become platform for their political campaign.
As much as Goa loves to party, during the period of Code of Conduct, the law restricts playing loud music between 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. No use of loudspeakers at public meetings and processions without prior written permission of the authorities concerned is permitted. This also means that at parties, dances music is to be turned off by 10 p.m. However, we have more often than not seen people and organisers taking permission to extend playing of music beyond 10 p.m. by lowering the volume.
App and related services
Currently in Goa there are 40 teams of flying squads operating in three shifts, keeping a check across the 40 constituencies. In fact, they are more to serve the public, acting as custodians of law, keeping a check on illegal and suspicious activities taking place during the period of MCC.
“We have been trying our best to keep a check on the ongoing activities. We have an app which has been introduced by the Election Commission of India (ECI) called ‘cVIGIL’. The app can be downloaded by any citizen using Google Play Store,” says additional chief electoral officer, Narayan Sawant. Speaking about how ‘cVIGIL’ app can be used, he says: “The use of the app will be accessible from March 23 after the elections are notified. When a citizen notices violation of any MCC or an offence related to election can be reported. The person can record a video of two minutes or click a picture and upload it on the app. After it is uploaded, the complain goes to the collectors login who marks it to the concerned flying squad.” Thereafter, the flying squad has a time limit of 100 minutes to take action, but has to reach the location within 15 minutes and resolve the complaint. The report has to be sent to the concerned Assistant Returning Officer.
In case, there is any case that cannot be resolved in that particular time, then that complaint can be marked to the NGRS (National Grievance Redressal System). The NGRS functions throughout the year whereas the cVIGIL app is only functional during the election period. NGRS can be accessed through the ECI website where all problems relating to election or voters role can be filled there.
Besides this, there is a toll free helpline 1950 which people can dial to obtain details regarding election, register complaints or any other grievances. Sawant adds that besides the Election Commission, the app, and toll free number, both districts have Election Control Rooms that are operational round the clock.