Assam CEO asks state govt to exempt polling agents from night curfew restrictions

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Guwahati, Apr 27 (PTI) Assam Chief Electoral Officer Nitin Khade on Tuesday asked the state government to exempt polling agents of candidates guarding the strong rooms from the ambit of the night curfew imposed till May 1 to control the surge in COVID-19 cases, a senior official of the poll panel said.

The Election Commission guidelines allow guarding the strong rooms by polling agents till the counting of votes for Assam assembly election which is scheduled on May 2, he said.

'This is a part of the electoral process. That is why the CEO has taken up the issue with the appropriate authority of the state government. We are hopeful that the state government will exempt the polling agents from night curfew,' Joint CEO Lakhinadan Saharia told PTI.

The Assam government on Tuesday imposed night curfew across the state from 8 pm to 5 am with immediate effect till May 1 as part of its efforts to control the spike in COVID-19 cases.

Except for a small list of exemptions, mostly related to emergency and essential services, the night curfew totally banned the movement of individuals.

The Assembly elections for 126 seats in Assam took place in three phases -- March 27, April 1 and April 6.

The opposition Congress on Tuesday wrote to the CEO and urged him to exempt contesting candidates, their election agents and political party workers guarding the strong room from the night curfew.

'As per the provisions of the manual of the Election Commission, representatives of the political parties are allowed to watch/guard the strong room round the clock,' Assam PCC chief Ripun Bora wrote to Khade.

The Rajya Sabha MP said that different party workers are gaurding the strongroom with valid permission from the concerned returning officers since March 27 till date.

'Similarly, as per the EC guideline the contesting candidates and his/her election agents are also allowed to visit the strong room to inspect its safety,' he added.

Bora said that if exemption is not allowed from night curfew, the candidates and their polling agents will not be able to visit and guard the strong rooms, defeating the very purpose of maintaining transparency and neutrality of the EC in the matter of safety and security of the strong rooms where EVMs are kept.

'Therefore, I would urge for your intervention in this sensitive matter and direct Assam Government to grant exemption from night curfew to the contesting candidates, their election agents and representatives who are on strong room duty,' he added. PTI TR KK KK KK