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Poll panel set to tighten Covid-19 guidelines for upcoming elections

The Election Commission of India is preparing to tighten Covid-19 guidelines for the upcoming assembly elections including bringing in stronger accountability measures for the District Election Officer (DEO) and campaign restrictions in case of violations by political parties.The idea is to bring in measures to effectively ‘enforce’ its Covid-19 guidelines – a lacunae found in the last round of assembly elections in Bihar.The DEO is vested with powers to coordinate and supervise all election-related work in the district/area in their jurisdiction for all the parliamentary and assembly constituencies. The EC is strongly considering disciplinary action against the DEO in case of any violations of the EC’s guidelines. Restricting star campaigner canvassing and campaign days is also under consideration, ET has learnt.

In a virtual meeting held by the EC with representatives of political parties, chief secretary, DGP, state police nodal officer and CEO, Manipur, the commission emphasised on the need to conduct safe elections with 100% vaccination of all polling staff, proper sanitisation and social distancing at the polling stations. CEC Sushil Chandra conveyed his concern to chief secretary, Manipur, regarding the low vaccination rate in the state and asked for expediting the same.The EC will soon announce the poll schedule for UP, Goa, Uttarakhand, Punjab and Manipur. It is expected to underline the importance of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, with respect to measures to contain Covid-19 and its implementation by the authorised state agencies, officials said.In its submissions to courts in 2021, the EC had said that the enforcement under the 2005 Act had to be ensured by the SDMA (State Disaster Management Authority) and notified authorities under the Act. EC sources told ET that the panel will watch the Omicron situation closely and tighten norms as and when the situation demands.In a hearing in the Uttarakhand HC where it was asked to reconsider public rallies and virtual voting options, the poll panel is learnt to have said that the latter is not immediately possible but it will consider measures to minimise public rallies in view of the pandemic.The Commission has been holding meetings with all stakeholders on the issue. It may hold another review with the Union Health Secretary.At a meeting held with Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan last week, it was assessed that the Omicron situation was under control in poll-bound states and did not warrant any postponement of polls. While the ECI guidelines on social distancing during public rallies and door to door canvassing –– brought first during the 2020 Bihar elections –– are considered quite robust, its implementation has been found deficient as seen in the rampant violations in the West Bengal elections.Amid rising criticism over its passivity, the poll panel had cancelled hundreds of rallies and slapped notices against political parties for violating Covid guidelines on social distancing in West Bengal.The ECI’s actions were seen as coming too late in the day in the last two phases of the Bengal polls as the second wave surged across the country. The Madras High Court’s strongly worded observations against the poll panel even led to the latter moving court on the issue.

Source: Economic Times