EC slaps Covid ban on Bengal rallies

The Election Commission banned roadshows, bike rallies and padayatras for the remaining part of the West Bengal poll campaign, besides capping attendance at public meetings to 500 people subject to availability of adequate space with social distancing.

The EC said any permission for roadshow, cycle, bike, vehicle rally, if already granted, would stand withdrawn, while clearance for public meetings would stand modified in line with the new instructions issued by the commission invoking its power under Article 324 of the Constitution. As for nukkad sabhas and street plays, they will continue to be banned only between 7pm and 10am.

The fresh curbs — effective from 7pm on Thursday till the closing of campaign at 6.30pm on April 26 — were imposed in view of several instances of election meetings and campaigns where norms relating to social distancing and wearing of masks were flouted “in blatant disregard” of the commission’s guidelines for Covid-safe campaign.

“The commission has noted with anguish that many political parties and candidates are still not adhering to the prescribed safety norms during public gatherings, and this is making difficult for the state and district election machineries to enforce the directions fully,” the poll panel said in its order.

A senior EC functionary said that the ceiling of 500 people at public meetings would depend on the capacity of the ground to be assessed by the district election officer. This upper limit of 500 will apply to physical rallies addressed by political leaders, star campaigners and candidates as well as virtual rallies where their address or speech will be played to the gathering in a public space, using multimedia aids.

Meanwhile, polling for the sixth phase of polls in West Bengal was held on Thursday. At least 79% voter turnout was recorded til 5pm in 43 assembly constituencies of the state.

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