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Mamata cancels rallies; EC restricts public rallies to 500 persons

Mamata cancels rallies; EC restricts public rallies to 500 persons

Kolkata: Giving priority to the safety of people amid a spike in Covid cases, TMC chairperson Mamata Banerjee cancelled all her scheduled rallies and announced that she would reach out to people through the virtual medium ahead of the remaining two phases of Assembly polls.

On Thursday evening, Banerjee tweeted: "In the wake of an upsurge in COVID19 cases across the country and the ECI Order dated 22nd April, 2021, I am cancelling all my pre-scheduled meetings and we will reach out to the people virtually..."

Banerjee will hold a Press conference along with nine of her party candidates from West Burdwan from the Citi Residency Hotel at Durgapur at 12.30 pm on Friday.

The Election Commission put a ban on roadshows or 'padyatras' and restricted public rallies to an attendance of 500 persons. The rallies, with 500 persons, will only be allowed if adequate space is available to observe social distancing at the venue. The poll panel has also disallowed cycle, bike or vehicle rallies for the purpose of campaigning. Earlier in the day, the High Court had rapped the poll body for its failure to conduct elections maintaining Covid norms. Banerjee, who had initiated her poll campaign from the beginning of March, was scheduled to hold 14 more public meetings in places including, Durgapur, Asansol, Jamuria, Bolpur, Birbhum, Malda, Murshidabad and Beadon Street in Kolkata, between April 23 to 26. Though it has not yet been informed how many meetings she would address in virtual mode, she has stated in the tweet that the "updated schedule" of the virtual meetings will be informed shortly.

Meanwhile, the TMC wrote to the ECI again to club the seventh and eighth phase of polls into one. Interestingly, the EC order — effective from 7 pm on Thursday — noted "with anguish" that many political parties and candidates were still not adhering to the prescribed safety norms during public gatherings.

The Commission has reiterated that if permissions for roadshows or cycle/bike/ vehicle rallies had been granted already, the same should be withdrawn and permission for public rallies should be modified as per the poll body's directions. The poll panel has invoked its plenary powers under Article 324.

The state Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) and the District Election Officers (DEOs) have been directed to bring this matter to the notice of all concerned and ensure strict compliance without fail.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Commission in a letter to national and state parties warned that in case of violation of Covid norms during campaign, action under the Disaster Management Act 2005, and the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 etc would be initiated immediately.

The full bench of the Commission will hold an emergency video conference with the state CEO on Friday about the conduct of the remaining two phases of polls maintaining Covid protocols. Sources said the proposal for clubbing the remaining two phases was likely to be discussed. Earlier, it had rejected TMC's proposal regarding the same.

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