New Delhi: In an unprecedented step, the Election Commission on Saturday banned public rallies, roadshows and corner meetings till January 15 in the five poll-bound states, citing the fresh surge in COVID-19 cases, and issued stringent safety guidelines.
Declaring the election schedule for Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur, Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra urged political parties to shift to the digital mode of campaigning and announced the doubling of air time allocated to political parties on public broadcaster Doordarshan for electioneering.
The Election Commission had faced severe flak from various quarters after the deadly second wave of COVID-19 hit the country in March-April last year as the holding of assembly elections in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Kerala and Assam was among the factors blamed for the surge.
The Commission listed out 16-point guidelines for campaigning as it banned 'nukkad sabhas' (corner meetings) on public roads and roundabouts, limited the number of persons allowed for the door-to-door campaign to five, including the candidate, and prohibited victory processions after the counting on votes.
The Commission will not hesitate to bar parties from further rallies if the COVID protocol is not followed, Chandra said.
The poll authority will review the COVID-19 situation on January 15 and take a further call on allowing public rallies, he said.
The Commission had met Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan and health experts to assess the COVID-19 situation in the poll-bound states before announcing the election schedule.
In a bid to assure the voters, Chandra said all polling personnel, security personnel and counting staff shall be doubly vaccinated.
On the recommendation of ECI, the Union Health Ministry has issued orders on 8th February 2021 that all election officials and employees will be treated as frontline workers and all eligible officials shall be given a precautionary booster dose accordingly, Chandra said.
He said the polling time has been increased by one hour and the number of electors per polling station has been reduced to 1,250 from 1500.
The Commission also imposed a campaign curfew between 8pm and 8am. There will be no campaigning during this time on any day, Chandra said.
The Commission has also reduced the maximum number of star campaigners from 40 to 30 for national and state parties. For smaller, unrecognised parties, the number has been brought down to 15 in place of 20, it said.
COVID patients and all others who may be under quarantine will be allowed to cast their vote during the last hour of the poll day at their respective polling stations, under the supervision of health authorities, strictly following COVID-19 related preventive measures, Chandra said, adding sector magistrates shall coordinate this activity in their allocated polling stations.
Political parties have been asked to provide masks and hand sanitisers to people attending rallies if such events are allowed, Chandra said.
The Commission has also banned victory celebrations and only two persons will be allowed to accompany the candidate to collect the winning certificate.