The Election Commission (EC) is open to the prospect of offering assistance, if sought by the system, in administering the Covid-19 vaccine to the country’s population next year.
Speaking Thursday at the Idea Exchange programme of The Indian Express, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said the ongoing pandemic is an unprecedented national crisis that requires “exceptional and extraordinary” response.
“Currently, we do not have any legal authority (to assist in the administration of the vaccine). To conduct elections, we are empowered under Article 324. But having said that, given the experience and expertise we have, if someone reaches out to us for a national cause, we will take a call,” he said.
Arora was responding to a question asked in the context of the recent Health Ministry guidelines shared with the states, which say that the Covid-19 vaccination drive will be similar to the election process. However, he said that no help or assistance has been sought, as of now, from the Commission for the vaccination exercise.
On the lessons learnt during the Bihar elections, the poll panel chief said the EC has already begun preparations for the West Bengal assembly polls.
The Commission, he said, is already organising interactions between officers in charge of Bihar elections and their counterparts in states going to polls next year to facilitate sharing of experiences and lessons of holding elections in a pandemic.
“We have already informally reached out to the Health Department of Bihar to have an informal interaction with their counterparts in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, so that they can exchange notes on how to best implement the lessons of Bihar (elections). In West Bengal, we will have 28,000 more polling booths. Based on one of our major lessons from Bihar, we are trying to locate all additional polling booths as close as possible to the main polling station so that resources, deployment of forces and polling personnel are optimised,” he said.
The Bihar process of regular press briefings on the day of counting, he said, would now be a “template” for all upcoming polls.
Asked about the reforms he would like to see implemented within the electoral machinery, Arora highlighted the need to protect honest election officers from victimisation at the ruling party’s hands once elections are over.
“Many times, we have seen that our officers, especially the Chief Electoral Officers, become vulnerable because of their honest and independent conduct during an election. Immediately after elections, such officers are victimised or harassed. There have been instances in which the Commission has authorised me to take up the matter with the Honourable Chief Minister concerned. At the same time, many officers who we had to change (during an election) because of their biased or partial conduct get rewarded when the same party returns to power,” he said.
“We would like to go to the government and say that at least for one year after a state or central election is over, no (election) officer should be penalised under different alibis. Just because he or she was very objective and implemented the law of the land faithfully,” he said.
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