Kolkata (West Bengal) [India], April 16 (ANI): Amid a record spike in COVID-19 cases in the country, the Election Commission (EC) has decided to curtail the timings of campaigns for the remaining phases and extended the silence period to 72 hours for each of the phases.
In its order, the EC said: "No rallies, public meetings, street plays, nukkad sabhas, shall be allowed on any day during the days of campaign between 7 pm and 10 am wef 7 pm of 16.4.2021.""Silence period for rallies, public meetings, street plays, nukkad sabha, 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 of West Bengal," it added.
The Commission in its order noted several instances of election meetings and campaigns "wherein norms of social distancing, wearing of masks etc have been flouted in blatant disregard of the Commission's aforesaid guidelines".
The Commission also took a serious view against repeated violations by star campaigners/political leaders/candidates who are supposed to be torchbearers for the campaign against COVID-19, grossly violating COVID-19 protocols, thereby exposing themselves as well as the public to the danger of infection.
The EC had given a strict warning earlier this, month against violation of COVID-19 guidelines and said it would not be hesitant in banning public meetings and rallies.
The EC said that candidates and political parties shall ensure absolute, repeat absolute, adherence to COVID-19 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 said.
"It shall be the responsibility of the organisers of public meetings, rallies, etc to provide of 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," the Commission further said, adding that district election officers and special observers should take strictly monitor compliance of COVID-19 norms.
Earlier today, the Chief Electoral Officer had called an all-party meeting over COVID-19 norms, wherein the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) reiterated their request to club the remaining phases of the electionsThe fifth phase will see 45 Assembly constituencies in six districts - namely Jalpaiguri, Kalimpong, Darjeeling, Nadia, North 24 Parganas, and Purba Bardhaman.
As many as 319 candidates, including 39 women, are in the fray in this phase of the West Bengal assembly elections. Several Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) troops have been deployed in the participating constituencies.
The first four phases were held on March 27, April 1, April 6 and April 10 respectively. The sixth phase of the state assembly polls is scheduled for April 22. The counting of votes will take place on May 2. (ANI)