On 6th January 2006, Shri P. Naik, IAS, Chief Electoral Officer, Meghalaya convened a meeting with the Deputy Commissioners, Sub-Divisional Officer (Election) and Electoral Registration Officers and the Technical Staff attached to the District and Sub Divisional Offices and the NIC, which was held in the State Capital in pursuance of the discussion held in the discussion held in the Election Commission of India on 23rd November 2005. He highlighted the objectives and emphasized the necessity of Photo Electoral Roll which was explained in detail to the field level officials. A decision was taken that the target for implementation of Photo Electoral Roll should be completed before the general elections to the State Legislative Assembly due in early 2008.
The Electoral Roll used for the purpose of photo electoral rolls was the existing roll in force with reference to 01-01-2006 as the qualifying date. The process of implementation of the photo electoral roll started in April 2006 in four districts namely Jaintia Hills, East Khasi Hills, Ri-Bhoi and West Khasi Hills Districts covering 36 Assembly Constituencies followed by East Garo Hills, West Garo Hills and South Garo Hills Districts from the month of June 2006 covering 24 Assembly Constituencies.
With the experiences the districts have had in the previous years with relation to the implementation of EPIC, it was decided by the CEO that the preparation of the Photo Electoral Roll should be implemented in house and NIC will develop software for photo electoral rolls.
It was found that the non-digitised EPICs taken in 1994-1995 could not be converted into digitized images and the attempt to retrieve the images of those EPICs taken in 2001-2002 was time consuming and most images were not available or beyond recognition. Having taken into consideration of the situation, the comparative cost and also the target for full coverage, it was decided that for the purpose of Photo Electoral Rolls, fresh photograph of all electors would have to be taken. With this set goal, the motivation and impetus to achieve 100% EPIC coverage of all registered voters, the massive task of the new EPIC campaign began with full force and vigour.
Planning: A methodical approach was felt to be a pre-requisite in order to have an effective EPIC coverage of all electors. As such, the District Election Officer, the Sub-Divisional Officers and the Electoral Registration Officers chalked out a schedule to have the photography campaign conducted at the identified designated photography locations and on a village-to-village basis especially in the rural areas on a mission mode with great zeal and responsibility. In the process of implementation, neither contractor nor official consultancy was engaged for the purpose of photo electoral rolls. Suitable digital cameras were purchased and memory sticks were used, instead of floppy discs, because of reliability.
Publicity: Widespread publicity through the print Media and electronic media proved effective in urban areas. Dovetailing the photo electoral rolls campaigns with campaigns on development programmes at the Block Level and in selected places, proved to be effective instruments, in the rural areas. Apart from this, signboards, banners, pamphlets, handouts both in English and the local language were circulated in both the urban and the rural areas. Meetings were held with the political parties by the District Election Officer, the Sub-Divisional Officers (Election) and the Electoral Registration Officers for spreading awareness on the EPIC campaign and implementation of the photo electoral roll. The Block Development Officers were given directions by the DEO, SDO (EL) and EROs to hold similar meetings at the grassroots level with the Nokmas (Headman), gaonburahs and village heads and local leaders who in turn were requested to make the public aware of the EPIC campaign and all registered electors to come forward to have their photographs taken at their respective designated photography location as per the stipulated schedule. Public announcements and sensitization programmes were held at the weekly markets at different places.
Identification of cameraman and training: Electoral Registration Officers and Assistant Electoral Registration Officers were familiarized on the handling of camera. The District Election Officers and Sub Divisional Officers (Election) identified the officials for appointment as cameraman. In addition, non officials were also recruited as cameraman.
Trainings on Camera were imparted, to enable the cameraman to keep and maintain the correct camera settings to obtain the desired elector’s image quality and to have adequate knowledge in handling the overall necessary operations.
The Office of the Chief Electoral Officer, Shillong took initiatives to ensure that nostone was left unturned during the process of implementation and Shri S. Kharlyngdoh, MCS, Joint Chief Electoral Officer alongwith a team of NIC Officials came to Tura, the District Headquarters of West Garo Hills to impart hands on experience on the operation and use of digital cameras to all officials and staff from all the districts and sub divisions of Garo Hills region. The Assistant System Engineers were given further training at the state headquarters and made master trainers who in turn imparted intensive training to the appointed photographers in the office.
Deployment of photographic teams: Designated Photographic locations were identified at the District and Sub Divisional levels in line with instructions of Chief Electoral Officer, which specified that Designated Photographic locations be located not only in polling stations as done in the past EPIC campaigns. Designated Photographic locations were also located in villages to ensure better coverage. Depending on ground situation and demand, the photographic teams visited the Designated Photographic locations more than once to cover those failed to turn up for photography.
In some inaccessible and remote areas of Garo Hills, the Nokma’s (Headman) compound was also used as a temporary photographic location as the Nokma was able to inform the electors under his jurisdiction through his messengers regarding the time and date of the photography programme.
In West Garo Hills District the EPIC campaign kick started on the 5th June 2006 with an overwhelming enthusiasm. Altogether 21 (twenty-one) photographic teams were formed comprising of an Enumerator who was in charge of the electoral rolls, a Photographer who was in charge of the camera, a LP/UP School Teacher for logistic support and to coordinate with the electors and a Gram Sevak who was the group leader and identifying officer. These photographic teams camped at central locations, such as the PWD / GHADC Inspection Bungalows or in school buildings during the campaign period. A total of 21 Government and private vehicles were requisitioned for the purpose of photography teams.
The EPIC campaign was carried out in two phases:
The First phase of the EPIC campaign covered 75% photography of the registered electors which ended on the 7th September 2006. Thereafter necessary data entries went on in full swing and photographs of enrolled voters without EPIC were still taken in the office. General notices through the print and electronic media were given for publicity inviting those electors who were still yet to be photographed being mainly from the urban areas.
Thereafter, the second phase of the EPIC Campaign was launched in the month of December 2006. Since the response from the registered voters was not 100% general notices were published through the media for photography during office hours at the office of the DEO and SDO.
Since there were still few electors failing to appear for photography, repeated individual notices were served by the concerned Electoral Registration Officers as per the given provisions of Representation of the People Act, 1950 & Registration of Electors Rules, 1960 as applicable during the period of notices served. This brought the EPIC percentage close to the 100% target; thereafter in the subsequent revisions in 2007 the targeted 100% EPIC coverage was achieved.
Achieving the goal was a difficult task but under the dynamic leadership, the continuous support and guidance, the pro-active efforts of Shri P. Naik, IAS, Chief Electoral Officer, Meghalaya, Shri S. Kharlyngdoh, Joint Chief Electoral Officer, the officials of the Systems Management in the CEO’s office and the NIC, the state of Meghalaya has been able to achieve 100% PER and EPIC coverage.