Calcutta HC orders compliance of COVID protocol during poll campaigning in WB

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Kolkata, Apr 13 (PTI) The Calcutta High Court on Tuesday directed that in view of resurgence in COVID-19 cases, all health-related guidelines be maintained in the strictest possible manner with regard to campaigning by political parties for the West Bengal assembly elections.

Hearing two PILs in this regard, a division bench presided by Chief Justice T B N Radhakrishnan ordered that all district magistrates will ensure that the guidelines laid down by the Election Commission of India and Chief Electoral Officer are strictly implemented in true letter and spirit and if necessary, with the aid of the police authorities.

'We are dealing with an extraordinary situation and this calls for extraordinary measures,' the division bench, which also comprised Justice Arijit Banerjee, observed.

The court said that it is in the public interest that the administration ensure that all the COVID guidelines are strictly adhered to by all concerned including those engaged in election campaign activities.

Stringent measures must be taken against persons who fail, neglect or refuse to obey the COVID protocols, the court directed.

The bench oserved that 'callous, irresponsible and nonchalant attitude or behavior of some of the members of the society cannot be permitted to endanger the lives of the other members of the society.' The court directed that if the administration finds that a person, whether engaged in election campaigning or otherwise, is flouting COVID protocols, such person must be taken to task immediately.

The bench directed that wearing of masks has to be made mandatory in all gatherings, sanitisers must be made available liberally and safe distancing norms should be followed.

The judges asked the administration to do its best to ensure that there are no large congregations.

'We request the members of all political parties and all candidates who are contesting the assembly elections and who hold meetings and travel across the state for campaigning purpose, to ensure that at every gathering all persons present wear masks and maintain the safe distancing norms,' the division bench directed.

The court directed the Chief Electoral Officer, West Bengal to file a report in the form of an affidavit on measures taken for implementation of the guidelines for holding a safe election insofar as public health is concerned on April 19, when the matters will be heard again.

The PILs expressed concern that the people participating in the ongoing election campaigns are not adhering to the COVID guidelines and that this may cause a serious spike in coronavirus cases in the state.

West Bengal recorded death of 20 persons and 4,817 new infection Tuesday as per a bulletin by the state's Health department.

Out of 8 phases of polls in Bengal, four are completed and as many rounds will be held by April 29.

Arindam Das, counsel for one of the petitioners, submitted that the Election Commission should take all necessary steps for strict enforcement of the COVID guidelines.

Submitting that everything necessary is being done to ensure that the COVID guidelines are adhered to by the people engaged in election campaigning., the counsel for the Election Commission stated that the court may issue further directions if deemed necessary. PTI AMR SNS SNS