Taking a severe view of crowded rallies held recently in Bihar, the Election Commission (EC) Wednesday warned political parties of action if its instructions on maintaining crowd discipline and taking Covid-related precautions during campaigning are violated again.
The poll watchdog simultaneously instructed the Bihar Chief Electoral Officer and its district machinery in the state to “invoke appropriate and relevant penal provisions” under the Disaster Management Act, and the Indian Penal Code against candidates found violating EC’s orders.
The warning comes in the wake of election rallies in Bihar becoming more crowded and supporters not wearing masks while in attendance. Large crowds have been spotted at rallies recently addressed by RJD leader Tejashwi Pratap Yadav and Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi.
The EC’s guidelines of August 21 mandate that physical gatherings should be held ensuring social distancing of at least two metres between the participants and that all of them are wearing masks. The guidelines do not mention a limit on the number of people who can attend rallies and meetings and instead state that the maximum number of attendees should not “exceed the limit prescribed by State Disaster Management Authority for public gatherings”.
“Instances of such public meetings have come to notice of the Commission, where large numbers of crowds have assembled in utter violation of social distancing and the political leaders/campaigners are addressing the gathering without wearing masks in complete disregard of the guidelines/instructions issued by Election Commission,” the Commission said on Wednesday.
“By doing so, the political parties and candidates are not only flouting the guidelines of the Commission with impunity, but exposing themselves as well as the public attending the rallies/meetings to the danger of infection during the pandemic… The Commission has taken a serious view of the laxity on the part of political parties and candidates, on the ground, in terms of maintaining crowd discipline, and hereby reiterates and further advises them to demonstrate utmost vigil and care during electioneering.,” the EC said.
Candidates and organisers found violating the poll watchdog’s instructions in future could face cases under Sections 51 to 60 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, and Section 188 of IPC, which deal with punishment for obstructing a public servant from discharging her duty and refusing to follow her order.
With 7.3 crore voters, the upcoming Legislative Assembly election in Bihar is not only the first major electoral exercise in India since the Covid-19 outbreak, but also the largest anywhere in the world so far.
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