New Delhi, Oct 19 (IANS) Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Nasim Zaidi on Wednesday said the election panel is ready to hold simultaneous Lok Sabha and state assembly polls if certain conditions are met, including political consensus and more resources.
He said two primary issues have to be taken care of in the matter.
"First, several constitutional amendments will have to be made; and second, there has to be a consensus among all political parties," Zaidi told IANS on the sidelines of a two-day international conference on voter education organised by the Election Commission of India (EC) here.
"If these two things are done, we can hold simultaneous elections. Of course, we would need extra resources, such as more electronic voting machines," he added.
Zaidi said the EC has already written to the Law Ministry on the issue, after the ministry sought the poll panel's opinion on the 79th Report of the Department-related Parliamentary Committee on the "Feasibility of Holding Simultaneous Elections to the House of People (Lok Sabha) and State Legislative Assemblies".
On the dates of assembly elections due early next year in five states -- Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Manipur and Uttarakhand -- Zaidi said the poll panel would take a call on that based on the inputs provided by security forces and state machineries.
The poll schedule would be made keeping in mind the school examination schedules as well as the weather, he said.
"We are assessing the requirement of security forces, and the weather and examination schedules are also being taken into consideration," he said.
Although Zaidi laid stress on greater voter participation for a meaningful electoral process, he ruled out the option of compulsory voting.
He termed it "impractical" in the Indian context to punish those who are eligible but abstain from voting.
"The provision of punishing people for not casting their votes is impractical in India, given the sheer size of the electorate. We have around 85 crore voters, and suppose 30 crore do not turn up for casting their votes, penalising 30 crore people would be a mammoth task," the CEC said.
He said that instead, the emphasis should be on voters' education.
"Through our voters' education programme, we have been able to achieve close to 94 per cent voting in some states. On the other hand, in Australia, where casting ballot is compulsory, the voter turnout is still short of 100 per cent," Zaidi said.
Asked, how can the EC curb promises made by some political parties and candidates, or attempts to polarise the electorate on communal/caste lines, ahead of assembly elections in five states, Zaidi said once the Model Code of Conduct comes into force in these states, the poll panel would exercise all its powers to ensure free and fair elections.
"The Election Commission is not helpless in any manner. We have sufficient powers conferred by the Constitution. Once the Model Code of Conduct comes into force, we will exercise all our powers to ensure that voters cast their votes without fear or pressure or inducement," Zaidi said.
Earlier, giving the keynote address at the conference, Zaidi said that our motto should be "No voter is left behind".
Zaidi also highlighted the success of the Systematic Voters' Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) in 2014 Lok Sabha elections in India. The programme was initiated in 2009 by the EC.
Subsequently, SVEEP resulted into highest-ever voter participation (66.4 per cent), achieved in 2014 general elections, and an unprecedented success in reducing the gender gap from 4.4 per cent in (2009) to 1.55 per cent in 2014, he said.