Bengal civic polls likely to be postponed amid COVID-19 threat

Kolkata, Mar 15 (PTI) The upcoming civic elections in West Bengal are likely to be postponed over the novel coronavirus pandemic as the ruling TMC appealed to the State Election Commission on Sunday to defer the polls, a demand that found resonance among the Opposition parties too.

A final decision will be taken by the SEC following an all-party meeting on Monday.

Elections to 107 municipal bodies of the state and the Kolkata Municipal Corporation are being viewed as a litmus test for the TMC and the BJP, a year ahead of the crucial Assembly polls.

Sources claim the state government was earlier was keen on holding the elections between April 12 and 26.

'The final decision will be taken after seeking opinion of all political parties and the state government on Monday,' an SEC official said. 'But with the ruling party itself demanding the polls to be deferred, it is most likely that the polls would be deferred.' In a statement, the Trinamool Congress said it would appeal to the SEC for postponing the upcoming civic polls amid the COVID-19 crisis.

'Elections will come and go, but politics must take a backseat when society is faced with such a threat,' it said. 'We urge all political parties to join hands and fight this together.' State BJP president Dilip Ghosh said the party would support any decision taken by the government keeping in mind the larger public interest.

'We are ready for polls, but in the wake of this crisis, if for the larger interest of the people, the state government and SEC takes a decision, we will support it,' Ghosh said.

Senior Congress leader Pradip Bhattacharya said his party would always support a decision that had been taken considering public sentiment.

'In the wake of this crisis, if the elections are deferred by few days, there is no harm in it,' Bhattacharya said.

CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty echoed him, saying it was for the state government and the SEC to take a call on the matter, but the party would support any 'pro-people decision' regarding the matter.

The state government had on Saturday announced closure of all educational institutions till March 31 as a precautionary measure to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus, which has killed over 6,000 people globally. The board exams, however, will continue as per schedule.

According to Union Health Ministry, the number of confirmed COVID-19 infections in the country rose to 107 on Sunday, with Maharashtra reporting the highest positive cases, followed by Kerala.

Two persons have died in Karnataka and Delhi due to the coronavirus. PTI PNT HMB