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Why hold Bihar polls amid Covid; if done on time, use ballot box to cut threat: RJD to EC

In a letter dated July 30, RJD national general secretary Abdul Bari Siddiqui offered the idea in the face of “research that shows that coronavirus stays on plastic and metal surfaces for days.”

Written by Dipankar Ghose | New Delhi | Updated: August 7, 2020 7:15:20 am
Tejaswi Yadav, Bihar elections, bihar polls, bihar assembly polls, assembly elections, covid positive postal ballots, bihar coronavirus Tejaswi Yadav. (File)

Even as several political parties in Bihar, including NDA ally LJP, have urged the Election Commission of India (EC) to defer Assembly elections scheduled later this year, in an official communication to the poll panel, the RJD has questioned the need to hold polls when lives are at stake and demanded polling through ballot papers, if they are held on time.

In a letter dated July 30, RJD national general secretary Abdul Bari Siddiqui offered the idea in the face of “research that shows that coronavirus stays on plastic and metal surfaces for days.”

Read | Bihar Water Resources Minister: These are not ordinary times, even for flood work

“This (letter) is RJD’s official response to EC when they solicited opinion on holding elections,” Manoj Jha, RJD national spokesperson and Rajya Sabha member, told The Indian Express.

In its letter, RJD has pointed out the worsening Covid-19 situation in Bihar, rejected the idea of virtual campaigning by maintaining that the method does not allow a level playing field, and urged EC to take a decision that saves the health of both people and democracy.

Asked whether the poll panel is considering RJD’s idea, a senior EC official said, “That (ballot box) is a closed chapter. We are not considering it.”

Read | LJP asks EC to not hold Bihar elections in Oct-Nov, says polls in pandemic will endanger lives

The RJD, however, stated: “Studies and research show that that virus stays for several days on plastic and metal surfaces. In such a situation will elections by EVM be able to stop the danger of virus spread? Will paper ballots not be a safer alternative? If a decision is made to hold elections, then for public health and interest they should be held by paper ballots.”

Jha said, “This is a strong suggestion (to hold the polls through ballot papers) from RJD keeping in view the kind of research reports we have come across about metal surfaces and plastic surfaces.”

In a study published in the ‘New England Journal of Medicine’ in March, US researchers reported that the virus survived on plastic and stainless steel for up to three days (72 hours), and for 24 hours on cardboard surfaces. It survives on copper surfaces for only four hours, they found.

Read | Chirag Paswan rings alarm on Bihar Covid situation: ‘Becoming explosive’

In the letter, Siddiqui called the Covid-19 situation in Bihar “very worrisome”, and pointed out that positivity rate between July 15 and 30 was 15.9 per cent, double the national average.

The letter stated: “…while conducting a virtual rally, the state president of BJP, vice-president and 75 other members were found COVID-positive and the building was sealed. Because of COVID, political leaders of various parties have unfortunately died. During election training, one principal died of COVID, and during movement of EVM’s in Begusarai, 10 personnel have been infected.”

Read | Bihar assembly election: Nine Oppn parties write to EC, say virtual campaigning exclusionary

The RJD also asked the EC to reduce the limit of people per booth if elections are held. Pointing out that the Commission has said there will be 1,000 voters per booth, Siddiqui wrote that the upper limit per booth should be 250 voters to maintain adequate physical distancing.

Jha said it is up to EC to satisfy itself and the people on the points RJD has raised. “If they (EC) are insuring government employees and security personnel, they should also insure voters, because they (voters) will also be at great risk. Once these things are done, let us see how it unfolds from EC. But we want a commitment on that.”

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