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LS polls: Kashmiri migrants in Jammu, Udhampur no longer required to fill ‘Form M’ to vote

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JAMMU: Kashmiri migrants from Jammu and Udhampur districts of Jammu and Kashmir would no longer be required to fill up ‘Form M’ to vote in the Lok Sabha polls as the Election Commission has ordered changes to the existing voting scheme for the displaced people, fulfilling a long-standing demand.

Earlier, the filing of the form was mandatory for displaced voters from the Valley ahead of every parliamentary and Assembly election in Jammu and Kashmir.

According to the new arrangement announced by the EC on Thursday, the Kashmiri Migrant electors in various camps or zones at Jammu and Udhampur shall no longer need to fill ‘Form M’. Instead, they shall be mapped with the special polling stations falling in the zones they are registered or residing in, the poll panel said.

In addition, the commission also eased the process of filing Form M by the migrants staying in Delhi and other places in the country, by allowing self-attestation instead of the earlier required certification by Gazetted officers.

However, to avoid impersonation at the Special Polling Stations, the voters will have to carry either carry voter I card or any of the alternate documents prescribed by the Commission for the identification of electors.

“There is no change in the postal ballot facility and the same continues to be as notified earlier. They have to fill out Form 12C to seek a postal ballot. Form 12C can be filled by any migrant, no matter where he is residing – at Jammu, Udhampur or Delhi, Mumbai, Noida,” an official press release said.

The decision was taken by the commission after a meeting on Friday chaired by CEC Rajiv Kumar along with Election Commissioners Gyanesh Kumar and Sukhbir Singh Sandhu.

The Lok Sabha polls in the Union Territory will be held in the first five phases on April 19 (Udhampur) and April 26 (Jammu), May 7 (Anantnag-Rajouri), May 13 (Srinagar) and May 20 (Baramulla). The counting of votes will be held on June 4.

On March 23, the EC announced a comprehensive scheme for Kashmiri migrants to exercise their franchise during the Lok Sabha polls, continuing the past practice of voting through postal ballots and special polling stations at Jammu, Udhampur in Jammu and Kashmir and New Delhi.

The scheme is meant for all those electors of Baramulla, Srinagar, and Anantnag-Rajouri Parliamentary constituencies in Kashmir who had migrated because of compelling circumstances and are temporarily residing in various places outside their place of original residence.

The EC issued two notifications categorising the Kashmiri Migrants as the ‘specified’ and ‘notified’ elector. Of the 26 special polling stations to be set up for the migrant voters, 21 are in Jammu, one in Udhampur and four in Delhi for the Kashmiri migrant voters who are residing at various relief camps and who opt to cast their votes in person through electronic voting machines.

Any migrant elector other than those who opted to vote in person can avail the option to vote through postal ballot papers by filling up ‘Form 12C’.

The commission ordered suitable changes to the existing scheme of voting by Kashmiri migrants at special polling stations as part of its ongoing efforts to make electoral participation more inclusive and hassle-free for all sections of society, the release said.

It said the amended arrangement envisages the mapping of all 22 special polling stations — 21 in Jammu and one in Udhampur — to the 21 zones — 20 in Jammu and one in Udhampur — individually, ensuring that every zone has at least one special polling station.

“In case there are multiple polling stations in one zone, the zonal officers shall earmark the intra-zonal jurisdiction for each such polling station keeping in mind the distance/ease of approach for each set of electors,” it said.

Various representations were received from several Kashmiri migrant groups projecting the difficulties they face in filling out Form M every election which brings a lot of hassle to them in exercising their right to franchise, EC officials said.

The Form M procedure subjects these voters to “additional bureaucratic hurdles” compared to other voters. The process of filling out Form M is often complex and cumbersome, requiring specific documentation, proof of migration status and attestation by a gazetted officer, the poll authority noted.

The Chief Electoral Officer, Jammu and Kashmir had also submitted his comments to the Commission on April 9.

“The commission, after taking into consideration the representations received from several Kashmiri migrant groups regarding the scheme, feedback from the political parties and comments of the Chief Electoral Officer, notified the scheme for Kashmiri migrants to vote in person at transitory camps and voting by means of postal ballot pertaining to the ongoing General Election to Lok Sabha 2024,” the commission said.

The Kashmiri migrant pandits leaders including former MLC Ajay Bharti of BJP and Sanjay Dhar of Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP) welcomed the decision of the Election Commission and appealed to the community to participate in the ensuing parliamentary elections en masse. (PTI)

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