EC rules out change in Bengal poll schedule; tells TMC not feasible to club remaining phases

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New Delhi, Apr 21 (PTI) The Election Commission on Wednesday ruled out any change in the schedule of the West Bengal assembly polls and told the Trinamool Congress that its suggestion to club the last three of the eight phases is 'not feasible'.

Responding to a letter by TMC leader Derek O'Brien to the state chief electoral officer, the Election Commission cited provisions of the Representation of the People Act and various steps it has taken to ensure safety of voters in view of the coronavirus pandemic to rule out any change in the poll schedule for the state.

While phase six of the West Bengal polls is scheduled on Thursday, the seventh and eighth phases are on April 26 and 29.

In his letter, O'Brien had urged the poll panel to club phase six, seven and eight of the elections in the state to a single date claiming that 52 days of campaigning were available to political parties and candidates.

In its reply, the poll panel observed that despite an extra phase this time, the total duration of election period has been reduced to 66 days -- 11 days less than the 2016 polls.

It also pointed our that the number of polling booths in the state have increased by 12 per cent as compared to that of in 2016.

Referring to concerns raised by the TMC over coronavirus cases, the EC said it has used its constitutional powers to prohibit the campaign period between 7PM and 10AM to discourage public gatherings.

It has also extended the silence period to 72 hours from 48 hours before end of poll in each phase.

'In view of extension of silence period, there would in any case be no campaigning from 6.30 pm on April 26 (Date of poll of 7th phase) to April 29 (Date of poll of 8th phase),' the letter said.

Scheduling for an election is an activity planned much in advance taking complex interplay of variety of factors ranging from optimal utilisation of resources, manpower and training thereof, logistic involved in the mammoth exercise, voter's convenience, festivals and assessment of prevailing law and order situations, the poll panel observed.

Referring to provisions of the RP Act, the EC said keeping certain statutory requirements in mind, notifications of the schedule of elections have been issued in which at least 14 days period has been prescribed for each phase of poll. 'Each phase of election is distinct and notified separately under section 30 of the RP Act, 1951.

'In view of this, your submission that 52 days of campaign period has already been availed is misleading and not in accordance with law,' the EC reply said.

'In view of forgoing, suggestion to club the phases Phase VI, Phase VII, and Phase VIII is not feasible,' the Commission told the TMC. PTI NAB ZMN