New Delhi: The delay in the announcement of dates for the Gujarat elections - close to two weeks after the Election Commission declared dates for elections in Himachal Pradesh - continues to remain controversial. Traditionally, dates for both states are announced concurrently.
Chief Election Commissioner AK Joti has defended the delay, claiming that elections will divert government workers from pending relief work in seven districts of Gujarat impacted by floods in July this year.
A fact-check by NDTV, conducted by speaking to officials in charge of relief in all seven districts - including an additional district - has found that most of the relief work was completed several weeks ago. A number of districts reported no flooding at all, saying that they received heavy rainfall.
AJ Shah, Gujarat's Relief Commissioner, told NDTV that "No letter went from my department to the Election Commission mentioning flood relief work." Mr Shah is the nodal officer and any request to the commission would need to be routed through his office.
In Banaskantha, the worst affected district, Romila Ben Patel, in-charge of the district's disaster management, said only the last leg of compensation related to flood relief work is left.
"Civic work is all complete long ago, and survey work for land and crop damage due to floods is ongoing. This will be complete in the next 10 to 15 days," Ms Patel said.
In Patan, the designated official for disaster relief said flood relief work in the district is 99 per cent complete.
Morbi district's disaster management in-charge, SA Dodiya said that flood relief work is ongoing but most of it is over. "Work (for flood relief) started from 1st June. Now there have not been rains for some time, so our work is mostly over," he said.
In Rajkot District, Collector Dr Vikrant Pandey said only one taluka (ortehsil) was affected in the floods and the damage was not severe.
"The taluka next to Morbi district was affected. Compensation for the loss of agriculture is already complete," said Dr Pandey.
In the remaining districts which were noted as flood-affected - Surendranagar, Mehsana, Aravalli and Sabarkantha - officials said that some regions of the districts saw heavy rainfall and there was no severe flood-like situation.
The Election Commission invited criticism for delaying announcing poll dates for Gujarat. This extra time, the opposition Congress alleges, was exploited by the ruling BJP in the state and at the centre to inaugurate projects worth thousands of crores. The BJP has denied these charges.
In response to a query from NDTV, the Election Commission said they based their decision on two letters written by the Gujarat Chief Secretary to the commission on September 27 and October 2, saying that elections will impact the pace of rehabilitation.