New Delhi: Expressing anguish that COVID-related safety protocols were being flouted in West Bengal campaigning, the Election Commission on Thursday placed an immediate ban on road shows, 'pad yatras' and vehicle rallies in the state and said public meetings having more than 500 people would not be allowed.
Using its constitutional powers, the commission issued an order placing fresh restrictions on physical campaigning in the state where two more phases of elections are due on April 26 and 29.
The orders came into force from 7pm on Thursday.
"The commission has noted with anguish that many political parties/candidates are still not adhering to the prescribed safety norms during the public gatherings...," the order read.
" ... the commission invoking its powers under Article 324 further orders that with effect from 7pm of April 22, in the state of West Bengal no roadshow/padyatra shall be permissible; No cycle/bike/vehicle rally shall be permissible; No public meeting beyond the limit of 500 persons at a place subject to availability of adequate space with social distancing, adhering to COVID-19 safety norms, shall be permissible," the order said.
It made clear that permission for road shows, cycle, bike or vehicle rallies, if granted already, stands withdrawn.
The order came on a day when the state registered highest single-day spike of 11,948 COVID-19 cases.
In a letter addressed to heads of all recognised parties on Wednesday, the commission had referred to the directions of the Calcutta High Court issued on Tuesday which said that it would be open for the EC and the state chief electoral officer to take requisite steps and also to ensure successful implementation of Covid protocols by requiring strict compliance of prescribed guidelines and orders by all political parties, candidates and all other concerned with the poll process.
The EC had recently prohibited campaign between 7pm and 10am to discourage public gatherings.
It has also extended the silence period to 72 hours from 48 hours before end of poll in each phase of poll in Phase 6, Phase 7 and Phase 8 in West Bengal.
In view of extension of silence period, there would in any case be no campaigning from 6:30pm on April 26 (date of poll of 7th phase) to April 29 (date of poll of 8th phase).
The BJP had on Monday decided to stop holding large rallies, gatherings and meetings for the West Bengal assembly elections, capping attendance at 500 due to the rising COVID-19 cases.
The Trinamool Congress had urged EC to club the last three phases of polls to check the spread of the virus.
The EC had on Wednesday told the TMC that its suggestion was not feasible and had cited the election law to turn down tne request.