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No physical rallies, roadshows to be held till Jan 15: EC

The Election Commission banned physical rallies, roadshows, bike and cycle rallies for the first week owing to rising Covid-19 cases, while announcing a seven-phase poll to five states on Saturday, including the politically sensitive Uttar Pradesh. It will review the situation on January 15.Besides, there will also be a ‘campaign curfew’ from 8 pm to 8 am, which is a shift from the usual 10 pm deadline. The poll panel has restricted the number of voters to 1,250 per booth instead of 1,500 to ensure social distancing, thus increasing number of polling booths by 18% compared to 2017.”We want to make this a Covid-safe election. We have talked to the health ministry and experts on the issue. The current spread is a dynamic situation which we will be monitoring closely. As of now, positivity rates in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur are at 0.24%, 2%, 1.01%, 13% and 1.10%, respectively. So, there’s no need for panic but it’s important to observe caution at every level,” said chief election commissioner Sushil Chandra while announcing the poll schedule.

The election regulator will review the situation after the first week to consider any change to the public campaign approach in poll-bound states, added Chandra.Polls will be held in seven phases in UP on February 10, 14, 20, 23 and 27 and on March 3 and 7. In Punjab, Uttarakhand and Goa, polls will be held in a single phase on February 14 while in Manipur, it will be in two phases on February 27 and March 3. The counting of votes and announcement of results will be done on March 10.‘Penal Action for Violations’ Even if physical rallies are permitted, they shall be conducted “subject to adherence to extant Covid-19 guidelines and in keeping with maximum limits of persons”, the CEC said, adding that each political party and candidate shall be required to furnish an undertaking to abide by these instructions.Chandra also said anybody violating instructions on Covid-19 measures will be proceeded against relevant provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and the Indian Penal Code as specified in the July 29, 2020 Union home ministry order.Further, as reported by the ET, the EC has mandated that the district election officer and the chief secretary will be held accountable in case of failure to observe the norms, Chandra said.”The past two years have made the conduct of polls absolutely challenging with serious trials and tribulations. Our duty is to conduct polls in a way that protects both voters and the vote. Our three broad objectives are – making elections Covid-19 safe, a hassle-free voting environment and ensuring maximum voter participation,” he added.

Source: Economic Times