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Interview with ADM, Kanpur Nagar (Land Acquisition), Sameer Verma

‘Janmela’ seemed to be an innovative concept to the bevy of local administrators here at Kanpur Nagar. At the Collectorate, as it is called, I met ADM City, Kanpur Nagar, Mr. K.P. Singh, ADM Sameer Verma and SDM, Bhognipur, Kanpur Dehat among others. Sameer Verma has also been Deputy Election Officer, Kanpur Nagar. I started by asking him what are his experiences as Deputy Election Officer and his role in conducting elections.

He said, “As Deputy Election Officer I enjoy all the powers and roles of District Election Magistrate and District Election Officer enjoys and my primary duty is to conduct the elections as per the norms set up the EC of India. It involves a bit of preparation of the voter list, identification of booths, framing of the parties, the conduct of actual elections then counting process and finally giving the certificates to the elected candidates. So it covers all the aspects and as Deputy EO I have to do all these things.”

Sameer Verma was very clear about his role as an officer on election duty and seemed to stay abreast of the main tasks and jobs on a polling day. He was well-versed handling the media, locals, officers, and staff. Next, I asked him:

Q: How do you think the role of media can be improved while elections are conducted?

He considered the role of media very crucial during elections and significant in handling law and order situations, too. He replied, “Role of media is very crucial and very significant in the whole election process. That is why for this purpose we have media certification and monitoring committee so that any news related to disturbance of normal election procedure or any news pertaining to disturbing communal harmony and related to caste, creed should not go into the public to cause disharmony. We also try to control paid news and surrogate news where in the names of few candidates some political parties try to advertise to win the favour of and woo the voters; to disturb the mindset of the voters they try to polarize the voters for different cause- all these things can be done very easily through media and in present circumstances social media is also very important, so we all take care to be vigilant about what’s on WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, etc. And all other platforms and especially a cyber media cell which is operational in police office is also taken care of. “

Paid news and surrogate news are two things he seemed concerned about which seemed to shake the very fabric of objective, non-partisan reporting of news during elections. He also spoke of increased political advertising which seemed to mar the old fabric of election campaigning on streets. Election coverage of media has gained ever more important and has become more significant in recent times.

I asked him to comment on the concept of Janmela as a way to conduct elections. I explained to him the idea behind ‘Janmela’.

He simply answered, “As far as election campaigning is concerned every political party and candidate has to reach out to their voters as much as possible so I don’t think they would like to have a framework which is the static type. Where all political candidates can sit and political parties can sit in a stall to promote their policies. Actually, they have to move door to door, they have to cover all the geographical area, then they are coming to know about problems in their constituency area. However, as an idea, it is good if we can collect all the possible candidates and if we can ask them to share their ideas on a particular issue, that will be beneficial for the public.”

‘Janmela’, according to him, is a positive idea towards making such political parties and candidates more accountable to the public as it will benefit the public at large. Although he believed that parties and candidates are more interested in reaching out to the public, hence campaigning takes on an important role for them.

We believe ‘Janmela’ creates an opportunity for everybody creating equal space for all candidates in the fray.

In the current system local parties, sometimes even better leaders are left out for the simple reason they do not have the necessary paraphernalia to successfully campaign. Current PR practices within political campaigning with large consumer data by political campaigners have led to the demise of local elections and politics at the ground level.

We spoke to him about ‘approval voting’ and whether it will assist in the selection of better party candidates.

He replied, “I think EC of India is working on it and every political party is very careful and concerned  when they name out a particular candidate for a constituency and as far as election process is concerned, now in the ballot box they have EVMs where they have NOTA ‘None of the Above’ button also which is a sort of rejection by the public if you do not like any candidate you can press that button. However it is entirely dependent on the political parties that whom they select their candidates and there are so many NGOs like Election Watch and ADR they look after the criminal record of the candidates, their educational status, their economic status..so now the public is very well-informed about their candidates and has a good knowledge about their candidates...as far as approval voting is concerned, I do not have to say anything about this because this is the right of the political party whom they select.”

Sameer Verma thought ‘Janmela’ was a good concept if implemented as it was feasible enough.

We further asked him whether it will be feasible in terms of administrative manpower and cost point of view.

He replied, “Of course if things are centralized and if we have to manage a smaller area definitely the deployment of staff and security personnel will be minimized and that would definitely reduce the cost but as far as the whole exercise is concerned of elections we in advance make an estimate as to what will be the expenditure during elections. EC of India also has made the limit of Rs. 28 lakhs per candidate in Assembly elections and 70 lakhs in Parliamentary elections so yes in a way it can help.”

‘Janmela’ as a concept seeks to make the system more transparent and equally accessible to all. People would have an equal chance to meet all candidates wanting to contest the election.  With regard to the use of internet and social media, we have a clear stand on how there should be an element of confidentiality to the data being leaked out by various political parties and candidates looking for short-term gain or followers on the internet. Careful consideration of various elements in handling social media including policies related to privacy are not adhered to. ‘Janmela’ seeks to get rid of that and promote equal space for every political party.

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