Kolkata, April 16 (IANS) Considering the steep rise of Covid cases in the state, the Election Commission(EC) has restricted all parties from conducting any kind of political rallies, meetings and political gatherings between 7 pm and 10 am during the days of campaign from Friday onwards.Invoking its powers under Article 324, EC also extended the silence hours from 48 hours to 72 hours in the next phases of election.In an order issued by the commission, it has been said that 'No rallies, public meetings, street plays, Nukkad Sabhas shall be allowed on any day during the days of campaigning between 7 pm and 10 am from 7 pm of 16.04.2021'.The commission also said that silence period for rallies, public meetings, street plays, Nukkad Sabhas, bike rallies or any gathering for campaigning purposes shall be extended to 72 hours before the end of the poll for phase 6, phase 7 and phase 8 in the state.The commission has asked all the candidates and political parties to adhere to the Covid guidelines laid down by the commission and also made it clear that it would be the responsibility of the political parties to provide masks and sanitisers to all the people attending the political rallies and meetings.The Commission has given absolute authority to the District Election Officers to enforce Covid guidelines and will cancel the meetings and rallies if the rules laid down by the commission are not followed. Special Observers and the General, Police and Expenditure Observers are given the responsibility to strictly monitor the compliance of Covid norms during the elections.The decisions were taken after an all-party was convened by the chief electoral officer Ariz Aftab on Friday in which the Trinamool Congress urged the Election Commission to club the last three phases of elections into one with the Covid-19 pandemic situation showing an upward surge in the country including in Bengal.However, the other political parties pitched against the clubbing of the next three phases and vowed to follow the guidelines laid down by the commission."We believe that people's lives should be given the topmost priority. However, the health protocols and sanitisation measures cannot be implemented properly because of engagement of a good number of government officials in the lengthy election process. We feel the last three phases of elections should be clubbed into a single one so that we can put in the full machinery to curb the Covid pandemic situation," Partha Chatterjee, Trinamool Congress secretary general, said.The BJP differed and said that the level playing field for those candidates who are contesting the last three phases of elections cannot be offered if election phases are integrated. "So far 61 per cent of the candidates would have finished their election by tomorrow (Saturday) as five of the eight phases will be over. So, if there are any sort of restrictions in campaign then the 31 per cent candidates who are in the fray in the last three phases will be deprived. There needs to be a balance between campaigning and adhering to safety norms and we are ready to follow guidelines laid down by the Commission for campaigning," BJP leader Swapan Dasgupta said.Rabin Deb, who was present in the all-party meeting as a representative from Sanjukta Morcha, said: "We have informed the Commission that we will strictly adhere to any guidelines laid down by the poll panel in connection with the election campaign amidst Covid pandemic situation. We have decided to hold rallies and meetings that will not involve a large gathering of people," Deb said.
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