March 23, 2023

covid: Election Commission calls health secretary for Covid inputs | India News – Times of India

NEW DELHI: A bail order by the Allahabad High Court on Thursday, which went on to suggest the Election Commission and Prime Minister Narendra Modi consider deferring the upcoming assembly elections in view of the Omicron threat, does not seem to have affected the poll body’s ongoing exercise of assessing preparedness or its plans to allow election rallies with appropriate precautions.
The EC is, however, not leaving anything to chance and has called health secretary Rajesh Bhushan for a meeting on December 27 to discuss the Centre’s assessment of the Covid situation in the wake of emerging Omicron cases and containment plans.
At a press conference on Friday, Bhushan said district and state administrations have been issued detailed guidelines on how cases are to be monitored and actions to be taken on basis of parameters like bed occupancy and positivity rates. He said it will not be appropriate for the health ministry press conference to touch on the high court comments or the EC’s likely course of action.
The health secretary’s inputs, along with a visit by the full Commission to Uttar Pradesh next week to assess all aspects of poll preparedness, is expected to help the EC take an informed decision on whether it needs to revisit its Covid guidelines for the poll campaign in the upcoming five state elections. The issue had cropped up in the Bihar elections in October, 2020. Opposition parties had objected to suggestions that rallies be curtailed, saying virtual or digital campaigning will benefit larger and better-funded parties like BJP. In the last round of state elections in March-April, rallies in the concluding phases in West Bengal were called off following concerns over rising Covid cases.
During its tour of UP from December 28 to December 30, the EC will assess, in consultation with the state administration, the Covid situation in the state, including the threat of the Omicron variant, and accordingly finetune its norms for Covid-safe polling and campaigning.
Meanwhile, what has intrigued officials is how a bail order by the Allahabad HC judge ended up commenting on whether the polls be deferred. Interestingly, it not only requested the EC to do so but also made a similar appeal to the Prime Minister, who has no role in deciding on scheduling of elections as Article 324 entrusts that mandate solely to the EC.
Sources said the Commission intends to stick to its constitutional mandate of holding polls in a state before the life of its existing assembly expires. The term of the Goa assembly expires on March 15 and as per the EC’s constitutional mandate, it must complete polls before that date, with enough time to spare for formation of the government. Since all the five state polls will be clubbed for logistical ease, as is the convention, the polling for all will have to be completed before March 15.
A senior EC functionary said the Commission has already factored in Covid concerns while preparing for the upcoming polls, having reduced the number of voters per polling station to 1,200 instead of the usual 1,500.

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