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Covid surge: Bengal chief poll officer calls all-party meet, to encourage virtual rallies

The meeting has been called at the behest of the Election Commission (EC), sources said. The EC is also meeting its special observers on Thursday on this issue.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
Updated: April 15, 2021 7:26:17 am
West Bengal Assembly Elections 2021, Election Commission, election 2021, bengal elections, BJP West Bengal rally, TMC West Bengal rally, indian expressThe crowd at at a GJM rally in Darjeeling on Wednesday — the last day of campaigning for the fifth phase of polling in West Bengal. (Express Photo by Partha Paul)

With West Bengal undergoing a surge in coronavirus cases, like other states, the state Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) has called an all-party meeting on Friday to reiterate instructions on campaigning amid the pandemic and encourage more virtual rallies for the remaining phases of the Assembly elections.

The meeting has been called at the behest of the Election Commission (EC), sources said. The EC is also meeting its special observers on Thursday.

Changes to campaigning timings or method of campaigning, if any, will only be made after the two meetings, a senior EC official told The Indian Express.

The meetings are being called against the backdrop of the growing laxity in following Covid-19 protocols during campaigning in West Bengal. Last week, the poll panel had warned all political parties that it will not hesitate to ban rallies and meetings if precautions are not adhered to.

The Calcutta High Court had also directed the CEO and all district magistrates in the state to ensure strict implementation of Covid-19 protocols during campaigning for the remaining four phases.

On Wednesday, West Bengal reported 5,892 Covid-positive cases – the highest single-day spike so far – and 24 deaths.

In its letter to all recognised state and national political parties, the EC had last week reiterated its guidelines on holding election rallies in the middle of the pandemic.

The poll panel had also flagged instances of candidates and star campaigners not wearing masks, and gatherings at their rallies openly flouting norms of physical distancing.

“It is advisable that political leaders/candidates who have the incumbent duty to control spread of COVID, demonstrate by their personal example and nudge all supporters in the beginning rally, meetings and campaign itself to wear masks, use sanitisers and put in place crowd control measures as per social distancing norms,” the EC wrote.

Meanwhile, campaigning for the fifth phase in which 45 seats will go to polls on April 17, ended on Wednesday. The campaigning ended at 6.30 pm. The Election Commission has increased the silence period from 48 to 72 hours in view of the Cooch Behar killings in the fourth phase.

A total of 1.13 crore voters are eligible to cast their votes to decide the fate of 342 candidates, including Siliguri Mayor and Left Front leader Ashok Bhattacharya, state minister Bratya Basu and BJP’s Samik Bhattacharya.

Polling will be held from 7 am to 6.30 pm at 15,789 polling stations in 16 Assembly seats in North 24 Parganas, eight each in Purba Bardhaman and Nadia, seven in Jalpaiguri, five Darjeeling and one in Kalimpong district.

In view of the Cooch Behar killings, in which four people were killed in CISF firing and one man was shot dead by unidentified persons outside a booth in Sitalkuchi, the EC has decided to deploy at least 853 companies of central forces, an official said.

—With PTI Inputs

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