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An all party-meet called by the Election Commission of India in Kolkata concluded with political parties promising to adhere to the decision that the poll body takes given the COVID-19 situation in West Bengal. Talking to reporters after the meeting, the Bharatiya Janata Party said that it has assured the EC of its full cooperation. “We’ve advised the Election Commission to balance the need for a robust democratic culture with safety norms. It is up to the EC to tell us what exactly political parties must do. We’ve assured them that we’ll adhere to protocols,” said Swapan Das Gupta of the BJP.
The TMC has already said that it wants the EC to wrap up the remaining four phases of polls in one go. “Amid an ongoing pandemic, we firmly opposed Election Commission’s decision to conduct WB polls in 8 phases. Now, in view of the huge surge in COVID-19 cases, I urge the ECI to consider holding the remaining phases in ONE go. This will protect the people from further exposure to COVID 19,” said Mamata Banerjee in a tweet.
The Election Commission had called for an all-party meet after the Calcutta High Court sought its response on the actions and steps taken on COVID-19 safety protocols during the poll campaign. Notably, West Bengal had reported its highest ever surge in Covid-19 cases as it registered nearly 6,000 new cases.
Two PILs have been filed in the Calcutta High Court with regard to election campaigns and COVID protocols. Hearing the PILs, a division bench headed by Chief Justice TBN Radhakrishnan ordered all district magistrates to ensure strict implementation of the guidelines laid down by the EC and CEO.
Earlier yesterday, the Election Commission dismissed speculation that the last three phases of assembly polls in West Bengal could be clubbed given the surge in coronavirus cases. The EC said that clubbing of the rest three phases is legally challenging. West Bengal is voting in an eight-phase election and a large number of people have been attending political rallies flouting all COVID-19 norms including social distancing and wearing of masks. Amid the rising number of COVID-19 cases, the EC had on April 9 flagged instances of star campaigners and leaders campaigning without masks and warned that it will not hesitate in banning events like rallies in case the COVID-19 guidelines issued by it last year are not followed properly.