As many as 565 auxiliary polling stations, 8,000 PPE kits, 21 lakh hand gloves and health teams for each of the polling stations were among the measures put in place on Monday, the eve of by-elections to eight Assembly constituencies amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Officers of Election Commission of India (EC) said that they will facilitate even those down with Covid-19 to cast their votes.
S Murali Krishna, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Gujarat, said that total 566 polling stations were added to ensure that social distancing norms are not violated in the polling booths.
“We have arranged 8,000 PPE kits for Covid-19 patients, suspected Covid-19 patients and polling officials. Suspected Covid-19 patients and those infected will be allowed to vote during the last hour of polling. This will be done under the supervision of health department officials,” he said. Apart from this, 21 lakh polythene hand gloves have been procured for voters.
There are 18.75 lakh eligible voters in eight constituencies where bypolls will be held on Tuesday. The EC has set up 3,024 polling booths where polling staff will also carry three lakh face masks to be distributed among voters who turn up without masks. Polling staff have also been provided with 3,400 thermal guns to screen the voters, 41,000 N95 face masks, 82,000 disposable masks, 41,000 face shields and 41,000 rubber hand gloves.
All the polling booths will be sanitised where sanitisers, soap and water will be provided for voters, security personnel and polling officials. The booths will also have Covid help desks and a mobile team of doctors will be available for any exigencies during the polling and counting, the CEO added. The polling will start at 7 am and end at 6 pm, officials said.
The bypolls to Abdasa and Morbi seats in Morbi district, Limbdi in Surendranagar district, Gadhada in Botad district, Dhari in Amreli district, Karjan in Vadodara district, Kaprada in Valsad district and Dangs in Dangs district have been warranted due to the resignation of sitting Congress MLAs ahead of Rajya Sabha elections in the state in June this year. Five of them – Pradyumansinh Jadeja (Abdasa), Brijesh Merja (Morbi), JV Kakadiya (Dhari), Akshay Patel (Karjan) and Jitu Chaudhary (Kaprada) — have since joined the BJP and are seeking to retain their seats as BJP nominees now.
“Usually, the EC guidelines provide for setting up of one polling station for up to 1,400 voters in urban areas and up to 1,200 voters in rural areas. But the revised guidelines issued in view of the Covid-19 pandemic mandate that no polling station should have more than 1,000 voters. Therefore, we have set up 94 additional polling booths as compared to the 2019 parliamentary elections, taking the total to 420 in Limbdi,” HM Solanki, Sub-Divisional Magistrate of Limbdi and returning officer for the Limbdi bypoll, told The Indian Express.
In Morbi, Returning Officer Devendra Zala said that most of the auxiliary stations were in urban areas of Morbi and Maliya towns. “As per the EC guidelines, polling staff went to the houses of voters who are 85 years or older, specially abled or Covid-19 infected, set up polling booths there and helped them cast their votes. As many as 1,077 elderly and specially abled voters and eight Covid-19 positive voters have already cast their votes. As of Monday, there were 81 Covid-19 poisitive voters. If any of them wants to vote, our health team would go to them, help the voters put on a PPE kit, ferry them to the polling station and back,” Zala said.
In Abdasa, 14 of the total 2.34 lakh registered voters were down with the contagious disease as of Monday. “But none of them have reached out to us with the request of casting votes. Of the 1,697 elderly and divyang voters who expressed their desire to cast their votes, 1,573 have already voted,” Praveensinh Jaitawat, Returning Officer for Abdasa, said.
Officers said that a health team comprising a female and a male health worker, an anganwadi worker and an ASHA worker will be stationed at every polling booth. They will help voters sanitise their hands and give them right-hand glove before they are allowed to proceed to the polling room.
“As the EC norms requires people to get their left hand index finger inked before voting, we have chosen the right-hand glove,” Hitesh Zankat, Returning Officer of Dhari, said.
Returning Officer for Gadhda, Rajesh Chauhan, said that there will be separate waiting areas for Covid-19 suspect cases and other voters. “The one hour slot from 5 pm to 6 pm has been reserved for voters who are Covid-19 positive,” Zala added.
Counting of votes is on November 10.
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