The Election Commission of India today said that conducting elections amid the Covid-19 pandemic is extremely challenging. The poll body also announced new measures for political parties in wake of the assembly polls and surge in COVID-19 cases. Addressing the media on the occasion, Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra said that the Covid situation is very dynamic and nobody can predict Covid numbers of a future date. He said that there is no need to panic, but there is a need for caution.
“For the past two years, the impact of COVID-19 has made the conduct of elections extremely challenging….It’s our duty to see how to conduct elections in a matter that protects both – the voters and the booth,” said Chandra.
He said that the EC worked with three broad objectives this time – Covid safe election, hassle-free and comfortable voting experience for the voters and maximum voter participation. The EC also said that polling time has been increased by an hour to allow more time for voters and avoid crowding at the booths.
“As the Covid cases show a surge especially in view of the new variant Omicron, the commission had meetings with the health secretary, health experts as well, health secretaries of the states, and union home secretary. After taking all these views and the opinions and reviewing the ground situation, we decided to announce the election to the five states with safety norms in place,” said Chandra.
The commission thus banned all the election rallies, roadshows and corner meetings till January 15 in the five poll-bound states. CEC Chandra said the poll authority will review the COVID-19 situation on January 15 and take a further call on allowing public rallies. He said that the Commission will not hesitate to bar parties from further rallies if COVID protocol is not followed. He said that strict actions will also be taken against polling officers for any violation of Covid guidelines.
The Commission also set out stringent COVID guidelines, restricting the number of persons allowed for door-to-door campaigns to five. The CEC informed that political parties have been asked to provide masks, hand sanitisers to people attending rallies if they are allowed.
The Commission also banned victory celebrations and said that only two persons will be allowed to accompany the candidate to collect the winning certificate. The EC said that all polling stations will be equipped with Covid-mitigation facilities including sanitisers and masks.
Voting will be held for a total of 690 assembly constituencies with 403 seats in UP, 117 in Punjab, 70 in Uttarakhand 60 in Manipur and 40 in Goa. More than 18 crore voters, including over 8.5 crore women, will be eligible to vote in five state assembly polls. CEC Chandra also said that more than 15 crore voters in five poll-bound states have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccines while over nine crores have got both doses. He said that all personnel on election duty will be doubly-vaccinated and also eligible for the precautionary third dose to ensure Covid-safe polls.