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West Bengal polls: EC imposes campaign curbs amid rising COVID-19 cases

The Election Commission also asked candidates and political parties to ensure absolute adherence to COVID-19 guidelines in letter and sprit. Violations, if any, shall be sternly dealt with and action, including criminal action, taken as per extant legal framework, it said

West Bengal polls: EC imposes campaign curbs amid rising COVID-19 cases

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The Election Commission of India (ECI) on Friday extended the silence period to 72 hours from existing 48 hours for the remaining phases of West Bengal assembly elections. The Commission also restricted campaign timing till 7 pm, with no campaign activity allowed from 7 pm to 10 am, due to the risks posed by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

"In view of unprecedented public health situation and the imperative of ongoing elections, the commission today (Friday) extended the silence period up to 72 hours (instead of 48 hours). These orders have come into effect immediately," ECI said.

The ECI, in its order, said it had observed violations of its August 2020 COVID-19 guidelines for election rallies, meetings and events during the ongoing assembly elections, and warned parties that it would not hesitate in banning such events.

"...the Commission has 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... in view of unprecedented public health concerns, the Commission is of considered view that the period of campaign for the remaining phases (phase 6, phase 7 and phase 8) of the elections in the State of West Bengal needs to be curtailed in larger public interest," the order said.

The Commission asked candidates and political parties to ensure absolute adherence to COVID-19 guidelines in letter and sprit. Violations, if any, shall be sternly dealt with and action, including criminal action, taken as per extant legal framework, it said.

"Star campaigners/political leaders/candidates/aspiring policy makers shall demonstrate by their personal example and nudge all supporters in the beginning of the rally, meeting and any other event during campaign to wear mask, use sanitisers and maintain social distance and put in place such crowd control measures as are necessary for observance of extant guidelines," it added.

Returning officers, special observers and police observers have been asked to enforce COVID-19 guidelines during campaign and strictly monitor compliance.

While voting for four phases has already taken place in the state, 45 seats will go for voting on Saturday in the fifth phase. Voting for eighth and last phase is scheduled on April 29, while votes will be counted on May 2.

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