Follow COVID protocols while campaigning in West Bengal or face action: EC to political parties

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New Delhi, Apr 21 (PTI) Armed with the directions of the Calcutta High Court, the Election Commission (EC) issued a fresh warning to political parties on Wednesday to follow COVID protocols during poll campaigning in West Bengal or be ready to face 'necessary action' under various laws.

In a letter addressed to the heads of all recognised political parties, the EC referred to the high court directions issued on Tuesday, which said it would be open to the poll panel and the state Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) to take the requisite steps and ensure a successful implementation of the COVID protocols by requiring a strict compliance of the prescribed guidelines and orders by all political parties, candidates and all other concerned with the election process.

'The commission, therefore, once again warns that in case parties or candidates do not abide by the laid down COVID protocols during campaign, necessary action under the Disaster Management Act 2005, the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 etc. will be initiated immediately by the district authorities and their permission for further campaigns, even if granted previously, shall also be cancelled,' the letter said.

The chief secretary of the state, the CEO and all district election officers are also being directed to scrupulously follow the high court's directions, it added.

The letter observed that the EC had recently used its constitutional powers to prohibit campaigning between 7 pm and 10 am to discourage public gatherings. It has also extended the silence period to 72 hours from 48 hours prior to polling in the sixth, seventh and eighth phases of the West Bengal Assembly election.

While voting for the sixth phase will take place on Thursday, for the seventh and eighth phases, it will be held on April 26 and 29.

On April 9, the EC had told the political parties that in case of a breach of the health protocols, it will 'not hesitate in banning public meetings, rallies of the defaulting candidates, star campaigners or political leaders without any further reference'. PTI NAB RC