In the light of the spiralling coronavirus crisis in the country, the Election Commission of India has issued an order to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic during the remaining phases of assembly elections. The Commission has extended the silence period for rallies, public meetings, street plays, nukkad sabhas, bike rallies or any gathering for campaigning purposes to 72 hours before the end of the polls for Phase 6, 7 and 8 in the state of West Bengal.
In general, this period is 48 hours, which means parties and candidates can’t campaign for two days before the elections, now this restriction extends to three days.
Moreover, the poll panel has also reduced the hours available for the election campaign. No rallies, no public meetings, street plays, Nukkad sabhas, shall be allowed on any day during the campaign between 7 pm and 10 am with effect from 7 pm of 16 April 2021, the order released by the Election Commission on Friday said.
In its order, the Election Commission issued a stern admonition to the political parties for occasional violations of the COVID guidelines issued by the poll body during the announcement of the assembly elections for the states of Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and UT of Puducherry.
Taking cognisance of the prevailing unprecedented coronavirus crisis in the country, the Election Commission has asked candidates and political parties to ensure absolute adherence to COVID guidelines in letter and spirit. Violations, if any shall be sternly dealt with and action, including criminal action can be initiated as per the extant legal framework.
The order also mentioned that it would be the responsibility of organisers of public meetings, rallies, etc. to provide masks and sanitisers to every person attending these gatherings at their own cost and account for it in their expenditure. The polls body also asked organisers to ensure proper usage of masks, sanitisers, and also be responsible for maintaining minimum social distancing by everyone.
The EC also asked star campaigners, political leaders, candidates to set an example by following the COVID guidelines and also nudge their followers to do the same while addressing rallies, election meetings and other public events.
District Election Officers and Returning Officers shall take strict measures to enforced COVID guidelines during the elections, the order said, adding that they can cancel public meetings, rallies in case there are violations.
“Special observers and General, Police and Expenditure Observers shall strictly monitor compliance of COVID norms during campaign,” the order said.
The new guidelines will be applicable for the last three phases of assembly elections in West Bengal on 22, 26 and 29 April. The next and fifth phase of polls will take place tomorrow, which means campaigning for it is already over as per existing rules. The elections in Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry are already over by 6th April, waiting for the results on 2nd May.
Measures taken by Election Commission to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic
Listing down the measures to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission said that it has undertaken intensive awareness campaigns to educate voters and all stakeholders connected to the election process regarding the process of fighting against the coronavirus outbreak.
The maximum number of electors per booth has been reduced to 1000 from 1500. Simultaneously, the facilities of casting the postal ballot has been extended to PWD electors, 80+ year old, and COVID-19 suspect/positive patients.
The poll body has mandated the use of masks, face shield, sanitiser, gloves by the polling authorities during the process. Likewise, voters have also been asked to mandatorily wear masks while casting their votes. Stock of reserve masks is kept at the booths for providing to default electors.
Thermal screenings of electors will be conducted by health workers at all polling centres. If anyone has temperature higher than normal temperature, he/she will need to come in the last hour of the poll fixed for COVID-19 patients.