The Election Commission on Friday ordered curbs on campaigning for the last three phases of the West Bengal election, including extending the silence period before voting from 48 to 72 hours and barring all campaigning from 7 p.m. to 10 a.m., in view of the rising COVID-19 cases.
The EC said it observed violations of its August 2020 guidelines during the ongoing Assembly polls and warned parties that it wouldn’t hesitate in banning such events if it continued.
“… 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.
Invoking its plenary powers under Article 324 of the Constitution, the EC banned rallies, public meetings, street plays and nukkad sabhas between 7 p.m. and 10 a.m. starting from Friday, on any day that campaigning is allowed. In addition, the EC extended the “silence period” before polling from 48 hours to 72 hours for the three phases. Campaigning would end at 6.30 p.m. on April 19, April 23 and April 26 respectively for the sixth, seventh and eighth phases.
The EC also wrote to all national and State parties to reiterate its guidelines on social distancing, mask-wearing and other precautions for campaigning. The EC told the parties and candidates to ensure that the guidelines are followed.
“Violations if any shall be sternly dealt with and action, including criminal action, taken as per extant legal framework,” the EC told the parties. It shall be the responsibility of the organisers of public meetings, rallies, etc to provide 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 EC told the parties.