Chief Election Commissioner Sampath to demit office tomorrow

Chief Election Commissioner Sampath to demit office tomorrow

Chief Election Commissioner Sampath to demit office tomorrow

V S Sampath, Chief Election Commissioner, demits office tomorrow, capping less than six years of an eventful tenure, 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, Veeravalli Sundaram Sampath, turns 65 tomorrow, 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 largescale 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 per cent 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 per cent, the increase in voter turnout amounted to 322.71 per cent.

Male turnout was 67.09 per cent while the female voter turnout was 65.63 per cent as against 55.82 per cent in 2009. In actual numbers, 26 crore women voted in 2014 as against 19.10 crore in 2009, an increase of 36.17 per cent. 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.