Bracing for the big exercise, the Election Commission is all set to hold Lok Sabha elections starting mid-April and spread it over at least five phases till early May.
The much-awaited announcement for the polls is likely to be made by the end of February or early March, for which work has already begun, top Commission sources said. Along with the Lok Sabha polls, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim will go to polls to elect their new assemblies.
"The announcement of the poll schedule would be done in the last days of February or at best the first two-three days of March," the sources told PTI.
Before the scheduled announcement, the Lok Sabha may meet for one last time to pass a vote-on-account budget to enable expenditure for six months of the new fiscal year 2014-15 to give time for the new Government to present a full-fledged budget in the next Parliament. There is also speculation that a special session of Parliament may be convened shortly to pass anti-corruption measures by the government in the run up to the elections.
The term of the current Lok Sabha expires on June 1 and the new House has to be constituted by May 31. The Commission is looking into the issue of whether to spread the elections over five phases or may be one more phase. An estimated 80 crore voters will be eligible to vote in the coming elections after new voters have been added to the rolls, whose final revision is underway.
The Commission has already got the electoral rolls ready, except for some "health check-ups" to be made so that they are out before the end of this month, they said. "We already have a list of electoral rolls. We need to update it. We expect that before January end, the lists will be ready," a top EC official said.
A total of 1.1 crore poll personnel, half of them being security forces will be deployed for the smooth conduct of polls and to ensure that they are free and fair. Other work in the run-up to the announcement of the poll schedule is in full swing. Dates are being considered for a meeting with the Union Home Secretary for finalising deployment plans of central para-military forces before announcement of the poll schedule.
Chief Electoral Officers of various states are also holding separate meetings with DGPs of states for availability of state police forces for polls. "There will be a final meeting of the Commission with the Union Home Secretary for securing the availability of security forces for poll duty," the sources said.
Poll officials said the database of the civilian staff to be deployed for conducting polls is also being prepared and at least 5.5 million civilian staff would be required. The list of central government employees to be deployed for poll duty as micro observers in sensitive polling stations is also being prepared and final touches are being given to the list.
The EC is also working on finalising the polling stations for elections. At least 8 lakh polling stations are to be set up for polling across the country. The poll body is working out last-minute changes in polling stations for the convenience of both voters and poll staff.
Preparations for deployment of around 12 lakh electronic voting machines are also being made and the Commission is likely to get another 2.5 lakh new EVMs by mid-February which it had ordered with various public-sector companies. The last Lok Sabha polls were held in five phases from April 16 to May 13 and the counting of votes was done on May 16, 2009.
The announcement for the last Lok sabha polls was done on March 2, 2009. During the 2009 polls, there were 714 million voters against 671 million voters in 2004 Lok Sabha polls. Favouring a multi-phased election for a country like that of India's size and electorate, poll officials said it is better like this for "complete satisfaction of voters".
Otherwise it can lead to "discontentment" in case of any shortcomings, they said. Top poll officials justified multi-phased polls, saying some states are to be accorded special treatment due to their being extremist-affected like Jammu and Kashmir and Chhattisgarh, besides others.
The EC sources said the Commission has not conducted any election in a single go in one phase after 1971 as the size of the electorate in the world's largest democracy has grown considerably over the years.
The officials also said that the entire poll process takes around three months time. But there is a limit of six weeks time from the announcement of the schedule to the first date of poll in view of the Supreme Court direction that the model code of conduct inhibiting government decisions cannot be an unduly long period.
They said the Commission has to give around two weeks' time for government formation before the term of the Lok Sabha or a state assembly expires.In the states of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim, which will have assembly polls along with the Lok Sabha polls, the Commission will place two EVMs alongside for voters to vote in both the elections.
The Election Commission has not got a request from any other state for early elections so far though there is speculation that Haryana may opt for early polls. Andhra Pradesh has a 294-member Assembly.
Though the Central government is keen on splitting the state to enable formation of Telangana, there is no certainty on whether it is possible before the elections. Odisha will elect its 147-member assembly while Sikkim has a 32-member state assembly.
The terms of Andhra Pradesh assembly is till June 2, 2014, that of Odisha is till June 7, 2014 and of Sikkim till May 21, 2014.