The Election Commission has directed that campaigning will be allowed till only 7pm for the remaining three phases of polling in West Bengal in view of a renewed spurt in coronavirus infections that claimed the life of one more candidate on Friday (April 16).
The commission, after an all-party meeting, said it also decided to end campaigning 72 hours, instead of 48 hours, prior to polling.
The commission’s decisions, however, fell short of expectations of concerned citizens who had moved the Calcutta High Court seeking compliance of COVID safety protocols during campaigning.
“It is eyewash just to show that it (the commission) has acted on the court directives. Tell me how many big meetings and rallies are held after 7pm. This is not going to help contain a raging pandemic,” said Arindam Das, the advocate of Nitish Debnath, one of the petitioners.
Das pointed out that even after the court directives, political rallies were being held in various parts of the state without adhering to COVID safety protocols while the Election Commission remained a silent spectator.
“We have collected evidence of violation of safety norms during electioneering. We will present the evidence before the court on Monday, when the case will be heard again to take cognisance of the commission’s compliance report,” Das added.
The PILs sought clubbing of remaining phases of elections to quickly get over with the poll process to prevent party candidates, leaders, workers, supporters and common people from getting exposed to the virus.
The PILs also called for strict adherence of social distancing and other safety norms, which are blatantly flouted even by senior leaders and candidates of all political parties.
Even Home Minister Amit Shah was seen taking part in road shows in the state without wearing a mask in a blatant violation of safety rules put in place by the Central government.
“Our leaders have miserably failed in setting an example. The way they are recklessly campaigning with scant regard for COVID protocols are sending across a very negative message to their followers in particular and common men in general,” said health expert Dr Pinaki Mukherjee.
After hearing the PILs, the court on Tuesday (April 13) directed the EC to strictly enforce the safety protocols, take measures to prevent spread of the deadly virus and file a compliance report.
Following the court order, the commission convened an all-party meeting to chart an action plan even as the corona virus started taking a toll on candidates.
Pradip Nandi, the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP)’s candidate from Jangipur in Murshidabad district, died of COVID-19 on Friday (April 16) evening.
The polling in the constituency has been countermanded following the demise of the 72-year-old politician.
Congress candidate from Samserganj constituency in Murshidabad district Rezaul Haque died at a private nursing home in Kolkata on Thursday (April 15) after testing positive for the COVID-19.
At least six more candidates are now infected with the virus, calling for strict action to stop laxity in following Covid-19 protocols by political parties during campaigning.
Trinamool candidate from Canning West Paresh Ram Das tested positive on Friday, days after he returned from Kumbh Mela in Haridwar.
Das had left for Haridwar with some party functionaries immediately after voting ended in his constituency on April 6. After returning from Kumbh, a few days ago, he even participated in party programmes.
He fell sick with fever and breathlessness on Thursday, prompting him to go for a COVID test.
Polling is yet to be held in the constituencies of the other infected candidates.
In the all-party meeting chaired by the state Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Ariz Aftab, the Trinamool Congresses sought clubbing of the last three phases of polling to be held after April 17 fifth round.
The commission had hinted on April 16 that conducting elections for the remaining phases in one go would not be possible due to unavailability of adequate Central forces required for holding peaceful elections in West Bengal, which has a long tradition of political violence.
The parties assured the commission to follow COVID safety norms during the campaigning, but they unanimously opposed suggestion of virtual campaigning, said a representative of the political party who attended the meeting.
A total of 114 seats are scheduled to go for polls in the final three phases to be held on April 22, 26 and 29.
In the last 24 hours, 6,910 new Covid-19 cases were registered in the state while 26 persons lost their lives.