WB polls: EC says enforcement of COVID-appropriate behaviour 'less than adequate', asks SDMA to step up action

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New Delhi, Apr 24 (PTI) The Election Commission on Saturday noted with concern that the enforcement of COVID-appropriate behaviour under the Disaster Management Act during campaigning in West Bengal has been 'less than adequate'.

It also said that the body tasked with the enforcement of COVID-19 guidelines needs to step up its assigned duty.

The issues were flagged at a meeting held by Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra and Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar with top state government officials to review enforcement of COVID guidelines during campaigning in West Bengal where two remaining phases of assembly elections are to take place next week.

The seventh and the last phase of polls will take place on April 26 and 29, respectively.

'The Commission noted with concern that during public campaigns for electioneering, the enforcement under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 has been less than adequate,' a statement issued by the poll panel said.

The meeting was held just a couple of days after the poll panel placed a ban on roadshows and 'pad yatras' and placed a cap on the number of persons attending public meetings to 500.

The Calcutta High Court on Thursday had expressed dissatisfaction with the EC over enforcement of COVID-19 health safety norms during the ongoing West Bengal assembly election process, including campaigning.

The Executive Committee of the State Disaster Management Authority, chaired by the state chief secretary, which is tasked with the enforcement of COVID-19-appropriate behaviour under the 2005 law, needs to step up its assigned statutory duty, the EC statement said on Saturday.

The district machinery, which is tasked with election works, continues to remain responsible for the enforcement of other laws, including the DM Act, simultaneously, it was underlined.

The Commission directed that the SDMA and its functionaries must implement and monitor the implementation of COVID norms during the campaign and take appropriate action in case of any violation, the statement said.

The state government was represented, amongst others, by the West Bengal chief secretary, police chief, health secretary and Kolkata police commissioner.

According to the statement, the chief secretary assured the poll panel that the entire machinery has been directed to 'now onwards take more stringent and prompt steps for sensitisation and enforcement of extant instructions under the Act'.

The Commission appreciated the state machinery in flawless arrangements at the polling booths for COVID-appropriate behaviour and safe disposal of bio-medical waste.

While appreciating the good work done in the last six phases in ensuring COVID safe arrangements at the polling stations, the Commission directed that regular monitoring of COVID compliant behaviour and action against violations must be done by the authority.

The EC also directed that appropriate and effective communication strategies must be put in place to inform the voters about the COVID safe and secure environment at all polling stations.

During the meet, the Commission was informed that besides other essentials, 2,46,88,000 face masks, 17,05,851 face shields and lakhs of sanitiser bottles for polling personnel, and 9,00,00,000 single hand plastic gloves for electors (considering 85 percent turnout), have been procured to ensure COVID safe polls.

West Bengal on Friday registered the highest single-day spike of 12,876 COVID-19 cases taking the tally to 7,13,780, the state health department said in a bulletin.

The death toll also went up to 10,825 with 59 fresh fatalities, it added. PTI NAB RT RT RT