EC bans rallies between 7 pm & 10 am; extends silence hours to 72 hrs
Kolkata: The Election Commission of India (ECI) restricted all parties from conducting any kind of political rallies, meetings and political gatherings between 7 pm and 10 am during the days of the campaign from Friday (April 16) onwards and also extended the silence hours from 48 hours to 72 hours in the next phases of the election. The move was prompted in the wake of a steep rise in Covid cases in the state with the poll panel invoking power under Article 324.
An order issued by the Commission on Friday read: "Silence period for rallies, public meetings, street plays, Nukkad, Sabhas, bike rallies or any gathering for campaigning purposes shall be extended to 72 hours before the end of the poll for phase 6, phase 7 and phase 8 in the state."
BJP leaders Amit Shah and J P Nadda, who were scheduled to hold rallies in the state on Friday evening, had to cancel their programmes after the order of the Commission was out.
Four phases of elections had already been concluded in Bengal. The fifth phase will be held on Saturday. Another three phases will be held on April 22, 26 and 29.
The Commission has further directed all the candidates and political parties to ensure absolute adherence to Covid guidelines in letter and spirit.
Violations, if any, shall be sternly dealt with and action, including criminal action, taken as per extant legal framework. It shall be the responsibility of the organisers of public meetings, rallies, etc. to provide masks and sanitisers to every person attending these meetings, rallies, etc at their cost which shall be added and counted within limits of prescribed expenditure. Organisers shall also ensure proper usage of masks, sanitisers and also be responsible for maintaining minimum social distance by everyone.
The Commission has given absolute authority to the District Election Officers to enforce the Covid guidelines and cancel the meetings and rallies if the rules laid down by the Commission are not followed. Special Observers and the General, Police and Expenditure Observers are given the responsibility to strictly monitor the compliance of the Covid norms during the election.
Reacting to the restrictions imposed by the Commission in campaigns, TMC MP Sukhendu Sekhar Roy said the Commission accepted the proposals of the BJP to facilitate their national leaders' campaign in the state. "The restriction on evening campaigning has been done to provide an advantage to the migrating and 'outsider' BJP leaders who are travelling in helicopters or special flights in the state. They will now not be required to stay back in the city and will be able to return to their respective lavish addresses in Delhi after their day campaigns in the state," Roy said.
He reiterated that the TMC would abide by the directions of the Commission and already informed the district leadership and the candidates about its directive.
Meanwhile, the Calcutta High Court on Friday directed the Election Commission to ensure proper COVID-19 protocols are maintained during the fifth phase of Assembly elections on April 17 and present a report regarding the same on Monday. "During the hearing, the Division Bench comprising Chief Justice T B Radhakrishnan and Justice Arijit Banerjee pointed out that the court does not want that this state should be a police state and perhaps it is the duty of the Election Commission to convey this message (maintain COVID-19 protocol) of the High Court to all the political leaders," said Shamik Bagchi, the advocate of the petitioner. On Friday, the Aariz Aftab, the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Bengal convened an all-party meeting in the city to discuss strategies to limit the spread of Covid-19 during public election rallies in Bengal.
The meeting was conducted after the HC on Tuesday asked the CEO and concerned officials to ensure strict adherence to the Covid norms as mandated by the ECI in the remaining phases of polling in Bengal.