New Delhi : Orissa Archbishop Raphael Cheenath Friday appealed to the Election Commission to postpone polls in the communal violence-hit Kandhamal district as he said the situation in the area is still very “tense and abnormal”.
Kandhamal witnessed large-scale violence against Christians after Hindu leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati was killed Aug 23 last year. At least 38 people were killed and thousands of Christians were driven out of their homes.
Cheenath, who is the archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese, has sent a letter to the Election Commission with copies to the president of India, the Supreme Court chief justice, the National Human Rights Commission, the national commissions for minorities, women, and the scheduled castes, and to the state election commissioner.
In his letter, Cheenath said: “The situation in Kandhamal, greatly disturbed by the continuing communal holocaust since the last week of August 2008, is still very tense and abnormal. It is completely unsuitable to the possibility of a peaceful electoral process, let alone free and fair polls on the scheduled dates.”
Cheenath himself received death threats from alleged Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists, saying that his life would be taken to avenge the killing of the Hindu seer.
“There are still nearly 3,200 people living in the refugee camps run by the government in different places of Kandhamal. Their houses were destroyed or burnt and valuables looted by the communalist miscreants during the riots,” Cheenath said.
“In the process, their voter identity cards were also lost. The efforts made by the government to provide the duplicate voter identity cards to these hapless refugees is neither complete nor satisfactory. They do not know whether their names are enrolled in the voters’ lists or where they have to go to exercise their franchise,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Election Commission Thursday said it would make voting arrangements for the people living in the refugee camps in the country, including in Kandhamal.
“The Election Commission will make all arrangements in the refugee camps in Kandhamal so that people living there can cast their votes,” Deputy Election Commission J.P. Prakash told reporters.
Prakash said four companies of the Rapid Action Force have been deployed in Kandhamal for the safety of the people living in the six refugee camps in the state.
The state will hold simultaneous polls for 21 Lok Sabha seats and 147 legislative assembly segments.