West Bengal Assembly Elections West Bengal

Not feasible to club remaining phases, says EC tells Trinamool

Logo of Election Commission of India in New Delhi. File  

The Election Commission (EC) on Wednesday told the Trinamool Congress that its suggestion of clubbing the last three phases of polling in the West Bengal Assembly elections due to the COVID-19 surge was “not feasible”.

 

The EC’s response to a letter sent by Trinamool MP Derek O’ Brien came on the eve of the sixth phase of polling in the eight-phase West Bengal elections on Thursday. The seventh and eighth phases are scheduled for April 26 and April 29.

 

“You are aware that scheduling for an election is an activity planned much in advance taking complex interplay of variety of factors ranging from optimal utilisation of resources, and training thereof, logistics involved in the mammoth exercise, voters’ convenience, festivals, etc. and assessment of prevailing law & order situations,” the EC reply stated.

 

The EC said the Representation of the People Act, 1951 also placed a statutory requirement for at least 14 days for the schedule of each phase of poll. It said each phase of poll was notified separately.

 

“Your submission that 52 days of campaign period has already been availed is misleading and not in accordance with law,” the EC said, adding that the total duration of elections had been reduced to 66 days, which was 11 days less than the 2016 elections.

 

The EC added that the number of polling booths had been increased, the campaign period had been limited to 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and the silence period extended to 72 hours before polls rather than 48 hours as a result of the pandemic.

 

The EC also responded to Congress MP and West Bengal Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s letter requesting deferment of the remaining phases till after Ramzan and after the current wave of the pandemic was over by saying the suggestion was not acceptable.

Some former CECs agree

Meanwhile, some former Chief Election Commissioners also raised concerns over the suggestion made by the Trinamool Congress on clubbing of poll phases. Former CEC O.P. Rawat, who held the post in 2018, said while the remaining poll dates could have been clubbed with the last one, it would have only “added to the evil” by extending the campaign period. He said the Ministry of Home Affairs could have addressed the deployment concerns, but only if it had been planned earlier.

 

“The Election Commission has done what was the best option. They have increased the silence period from 48 hours to 72 hours,” he said.

 

Asked whether the EC’s guidelines for elections during the pandemic needed revision, Mr. Rawat said there was a need for gathering empirical evidence on the impact of election campaigning, polling and counting on the COVID-19 case count. Once a causal relationship was established, he said, several laws, including the British-era Epidemic Diseases Act and the Conduct of Election Rules would need looking at.

 

Former CEC N. Gopalaswami, who had the role from June 2006 to April 2009, said the clubbing of phases could not be done due to the requirement of security forces to be deployed. He added that political parties would need to be more “responsible” by not having large rallies during the pandemic.

 

However, S.Y. Quraishi, who was Chief Election Commissioner between July 2010 and June 2012, said the proposal of clubbing the last three phases (April 22, April 26 and April 29) was a sensible one.

 

“The proposal to club last 3 phases of polls in WB alongside the ban on all physical rallies is sensible, desirable and doable. Saving lives at all costs is the foremost objective... Law doesn’t allow shortening the campaign period from the prescribed 14 days. But postponing/extending by a few days is possible. That’s why clubbing with the last phase is doable,” he said in tweets on April 15.

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Printable version | May 12, 2021 6:19:45 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/west-bengal-assembly/not-feasible-to-club-remaining-phases-election-commission-tells-trinamool/article34378029.ece

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