Hyderabad: The Telangana State Election Commission (SEC) will launch a pilot project using facial recognition technology to check photo electoral rolls in the ensuing municipal elections, disclosed Union Minister of State for Home, G. Kishan Reddy, here on Thursday. He was speaking after inaugurating the two-day All India State Election Commissioners’ Conclave here.
The Union Minister said the use of this technology would further enhance the Election Commission’s credibility and called upon the SECs to make the elections more credible by following transparent electoral processes. Referring to the panchayat elections held in Jammu and Kashmir recently, the conduct of these elections had re-established grassroot level democracy and because of these elections, panchayats in J&K received their 14th Finance Commission funds, he said.
The two-day conclave is being organised by the National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (NIRDPR) and Telangana SEC with an objective to take stock of the gains made and challenges faced by the State Election Commissions (SECs) in conducting timely and free elections to local bodies after the promulgation of 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments. The conclave is being attended by 40 delegates from across the country.
‘Strengthen local bodies’
Kishan Reddy said that one way of involving the common man in governance was to strengthen the local governments. Local bodies in the country were the essential features of democracy, he said and reminded that it was the responsibility of every citizen to cherish and protect them. He said a few key issues of electoral process like timely conduct of elections, reducing money and muscle power in the elections were the most crucial tasks.
Delivering the welcome address, the NIRDPR Director General, Dr. W.R. Reddy, informed the delegates that the groundwork for the 73rd Constitutional Amendment was done at NIRDPR. He congratulated the State Election Commissioners for guarding democracy by conducting free and fair elections to choose 3.5 million elected representatives every five years. He said that the participation of people in gram sabhas was not encouraging and there was need to create awareness among the gram sabha members to participate in the meetings to make Indian democracy vibrant.
The Director General, NIRDPR, said all the SECs in the country create a huge repository of data about the voters, contesting and elected candidates. As part of research work, scholars can now work on the wide range of large-scale datasets, to establish new empirical trends in the democratic contexts and to gain deep insights into voter behaviour at the local body level.
Role of SECs
Delivering the keynote address, V Nagi Reddy, SEC Telangana, said, “Article 243E of the Constitution of India stipulated that elections to each local body have to be completed before the completion of the term of the sitting body. Though timely conduct of elections is a constitutionally mandated requirement, the SECs cannot decide on the dates and the number of phases of elections. The SECs, for functioning effectively, have to depend on the State government both for funds as well as manpower.”
There have been several instances where elections to local bodies were postponed by the States on one plea or another. He said delaying elections was tantamount to denying the citizens their democratic rights of electing local governments. Delivering a special address, Sunil Kumar, Secretary, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, said that to strengthen grassroot democracy and also for free and fair polls, networking and reaching out to stakeholders was necessary.
The key stakeholders in the local body elections include voters, civil society organizations, academicians, State governments’ Ministry of Panchayati Raj and training institutes. An integrated approach of these stakeholders will certainly benefit in terms of increasing the voters awareness, and deepen and flourish our democracy.