West Bengal Chief Electoral Office (CEO) Ariz Aftab has called for an all-party meeting on April 16 to discuss election campaign-related matters during the COVID-19 pandemic, informed Sanjay Basu, Additional CEO. Bengal assembly elections are taking place in 8 phases out of which, polling for the first four phases has already taken place. The voting for the fifth phase will be held on April 17. The counting of votes will be held on May 2.
The commission's initiative comes after the Calcutta High Court directed the district administration and the state Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) to take necessary measures so that the guidelines laid down by the Election Commission in connection with COVID related health protocols are strictly maintained.
In the letter written to all the political parties in the state, Aftab said a meeting will be held with all the political parties on the aforesaid subject matter on Friday. He also asked the political parties to send only one representative for the purpose.
Meanwhile, the election commission has conducted a video conference with all the district magistrates and the superintendent of police of the poll-bound districts and asked them to speak to the district level leaders so that they maintain the Covid protocol like wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. The commission has also asked the district administration to be strict and directed them to implement all the covid norms.
"If the political parties don't abide by the rules and regulation laid down by the commission then the district administration has been directed to stop the political rallies if needed," a senior commission official in the state said.
The Calcutta High Court has directed the district administration and the state Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) to take necessary measures so that the guidelines laid down by the Election Commission in connection with COVID related health protocols are strictly adhered to by all stakeholders including the political parties and candidates during election campaigns. The court has also given the nod to the administration for resorting to the provisions of Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 for enforcement of social distancing.
The court's directions came in the wake of two writ petitions by two public-spirited citizens expressing their concern that the people participating in the ongoing election campaigns are not adhering to the Covid protocol and this may cause a serious spike in COVID-19 cases in Bengal.
Stringent measures against violators
"Stringent measures must be taken against persons who fail, neglect or refuse to obey the COVID protocols. If the Administration finds that a person, whether engaged in election campaigning or otherwise, is flouting the COVID protocols, such person must be taken to task immediately," the Court observed.
As per directions of the court, wearing of masks has to be made mandatory at all gatherings; sanitisers must be made available liberally, safe distancing norms must be followed at all gatherings; the Administration shall do its best to ensure that there are no large congregations.