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In Bengal booths, voters queue up, Covid protocols absent

If the Assembly polls in Bihar held in October 2020 were in the middle of a previous wave of the pandemic, across booths, The Sunday Express found that the measures in place on Saturday were weaker.

Written by Dipankar Ghose | Basirhat, Kamarhati (wb) |
Updated: April 18, 2021 7:36:35 am
The West Bengal Assembly elections had a fifth phase of voting on saturday. Crowds of people in the voting line ignoring social distance.on Saturday,North 24 pargana. (Express Photo Shashi Ghosh)

In booth after booth, a lack of social distancing, no temperature checks, incomplete mask compliance, and barely any seriousness on compliance. That was the scene as West Bengal voted on Saturday.

If the Assembly polls in Bihar held in October 2020 were in the middle of a previous wave of the pandemic, across booths, The Sunday Express found that the measures in place on Saturday were weaker.

At 9.30 am at Sagar Dutt High School booth in Kamarhati, a Kolkata suburb, the line had thinned a little since morning, but was also the result of, as in Bihar, an increased number of booths as part of Covid-19 precautions. But that seemed to be the only thing working. There was a state police official at the gate, and some paramilitary personnel milling around. Multiple voters walked through the gate, masks in their hands.

The police constable stopped and checked their identity cards, but said nothing about the masks they carried in their hands instead of around their noses. Asked what his brief was, the constable said, “My job is to check voters and point them to the booth. I don’t ask about masks.”

Unlike Bihar, there was no desk at the entrance, and there was no sign of any temperature check. The queue had about 15, all of them in masks. But at least five had slipped them around their chins, and pulled them up once they went in. There was some element of distancing, but this was organic, and under no instruction.

There were no chalk markers on the floor to indicate proper distancing. Next to the entrance were two benches, where a group of women waited for family members to come out of the booth. One voter said, “We had a mask on, and just inside they offered some plastic gloves. But I said I didn’t want, and they didn’t insist. Some officials inside are not wearing masks either.”

Covid protocols flouted at fifth phase of voting in West Bengal. (Express Photo by Shashi Ghosh)

Thirty kilometers away in Barasat, the problem was not just the queues at the booth next to the depot. Like in multiple booths, workers of different political parties had set up stalls just outside the booth. As people approached the voting centre, they first went to these desks and checked their names against the voters’ list available with the party workers. Some voters wore masks, but not one of the party workers had masks on.

One BJP worker, sitting with six others, said, “I wore mask in the morning, but it is now so hot that I took it off. What is the point?”

Fifty metres away in a similarly packed TMC booth the mood was buoyant. The party workers believe they are doing well, but the answer to lack of masks remained the same. “How long can we wear one? We have to be here through the day. But we ask voters if they have a mask. If not, we give them one,” a TMC worker said.

Another 20 km away, outside a polling booth in Niharpur under Bisarhat constituency, there was again no table at the entry, no temperature checks, no distancing, and no instructions to do so either outside the booth. It was 2 pm, and many voters stood in line with no masks. This is because the message has gone out to the village that officials inside have masks they will give. The one policeman at the gate checked only identity and said nothing about the absence of masks.

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