CEC Sampath to demit office today; Brahma likely to take over

Veeravalli Sundaram Sampath, Chief Election Commissioner, will on Thursday demit office, which is likely to be taken over by Election Commissioner HS Brahma.

New Delhi: Veeravalli Sundaram Sampath, Chief Election Commissioner, will on Thursday demit office, which is likely to be taken over by Election Commissioner HS Brahma.

If Brahma is elevated, then it will be in keeping with the convention of elevating the senior-most Election Commissioner as the CEC, a recommendation the Law Ministry had made to the government.

Once it is cleared by the Prime Minister, the proposal goes to the President, who appoints the CEC as required under the Constitution.

A 1975-batch IAS officer of Andhra Pradesh cadre, Brahma (64), who hails from Assam, will have a tenure of slightly over three months till April 19 when he turns 65, the upper age limit for the post under the Constitution.

Brahma was a Power Secretary in the Centre before his induction into the Election Commission. He assumed charge as one of the three Election Commissioners on August 25, 2010.

After JM Lyndogh, Brahma will become the second officer from the Northeast to be appointed to this post.

Sampath's tenure

Sampath's less-than-six-year tenure has been occasionally marked by controversies, that saw him conduct two Lok Sabha elections and at least one round of Assembly polls in all the states.

Diminutive and low-profile throughout his career--whether in the IAS or in the Commission, Sampath turns 65 today, the upper age limit under the Constitution for holding the post.

Stepping in as a Commissioner in March, 2009, at the end of first of five-phased Lok Sabha polls, he lays down office as CEC after completing the General Elections in last May and Assembly Elections in Jammu and Kashmir in December with a record vote percentage, notwithstanding the threat of gun and a harsh winter.

A 1975 batch Andhra Pradesh cadre officer, Sampath began as a district collector of large districts and worked in various wings of the state machinery before ushering in large-scale power sector reforms in the state in the 90s.

He came to the Centre later and served as Secretary, Rural Development and Power before his elevation to the Election Commission.

However, there were difficult moments during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls following controversy over the decision not to allow a public meeting of Narendra Modi in a communally- sensitive area in Varanasi where he was a candidate and in Ahmedabad where he displayed election symbol of BJP and addressed a press conference close to an election booth on voting day.

The Varanasi decision evoked the anger of BJP but Sampath stood by the decision of the District Magistrate and the Superintendent of Police, who had gone by the professional advice of UP and Gujarat Police against holding the rally.

In the Ahmedabad incident, it was a different matter that a local court accepted the Crime Branch closure report which said there was no violation of Model Code of Conduct by Modi who went on to become Prime Minister. During his tenure, Sampath also presided over the conduct

of Presidential and Vice-Presidential elections in 2012.

He considers as a matter of satisfaction the peaceful conclusion of the Assembly Elections in Jammu and Kashmir, hit by militancy for long, and Jharkhand, affected by Maoist violence, without any polling day violence.

Jammu and Kashmir recorded 66 percent of votes in the Assembly Elections, the highest for the state.

Also during his tenure at the helm, the EC effected the first disqualification for inaccurate reporting of poll expenses of former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, who could not validly claim ignorance about the publication of 25 advertisements in which his name, constituency and his photographs prominently appeared.

The matter is now in appeal in the Delhi High Court which has stayed the EC decision.

Under Sampath, the Election Commission undertook several initiatives like distribution of voter identity slips with photos at the door steps of the voters, allowing voting for 11 hours, the longest-ever in the Lok Sabha elections and appointment of awareness observers from the Indian Information Service officers to conduct awareness campaigns among people to participate in voting.

All this contributed to a good voter turnout which recorded a new high of 66.4 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections over 58.19 in 2009. Another measure was the introduction of Verifiable Voter

Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) in seven Lok Sabha constituencies and bringing the social media under the ambit of media laws and regulations.

In effect, 55.38 crore out of 83.40 core voters voted in the elections, an electorate of the size of populations put together in some continents, as against 41.73 crore out of 71.69 crore in 2009.

While the increase in voters in five years was 16.34 percent, the increase in voter turnout amounted to 322.71 percent.

Male turnout was 67.09 percent while the female voter turnout was 65.63 percent as against 55.82 percent in 2009. In actual numbers, 26 crore women voted in 2014 as against 19.10 crore in 2009, an increase of 36.17 percent. The gender gap between male and female was 4.42 in 2009 which came down to 1.46 in the last year's Lok Sabha elections.

Delegates from 37 countries came to India to witness the Lok Sabha elections. They were from countries including Namibia, Nigeria, Lesotho, Mauritius, Myanmar, Nepal, Uganda, Kenya, Bhutan and Egypt.

(With PTI inputs)

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