Assembly polls couldn’t be deferred due to Constitutional provisions, precautions will be taken: CEC
“Article 172(1) states that every legislative assembly shall continue for five years or less in case of being dissolved earlier but no longer,” CEC Sushil Chandra said while announcing poll schedule
The Election Commission of India (ECI) on Saturday announced a seven-phase poll schedule for Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa, pointing out that under the Constitution, it was mandatory for the elections to be held in these states despite the rise in COVID-19 cases in the country.
“We cannot delay any further the polling to these states, whose terms is coming to an end next month, except perhaps UP, whose tenure ends a little later,” CEC Sushil Chandra said at a press conference. “The decision was taken after much deliberation. Article 172(1) states that every legislative assembly shall continue for five years or less in case of being dissolved earlier but no longer,” he said.
Therefore, he explained, it was incumbent upon the Commission to hold timely elections, notwithstanding the rising COVID-19 cases in the country.
In reply to a question, he said that the rise in COVID-19 cases was taking place in Maharashtra, Delhi and Karnataka where no elections are scheduled for the time being.
To preempt overcrowding at polling booths, the polling time in these states has been extended by one hour, he said.
The EC has also banned all public rallies and nukkad sabhas in view of the current surge of COVID-19 cases in the country.
“No roadshows, no processions, no padyatras will be held till January 15. The Commission will review this decision after January 15 depending on the Covid situation in the states going to polls,” the Chief Election Commissioner said. The restrictions could be relaxed if the COVID situation improves or vice versa, he said.
According to the guidelines announced by the Election Commission, all officials and employees on election duty will be considered as frontline workers and will be eligible to avail the 'precautionary dose'.
Under the schedule announced by ECI, the first phase of elections will commence with the issue of notification for 57 seats of Western Uttar Pradesh where the polling will take place on February 10. The second phase polls will take place and also complete simultaneously in a single day in Punjab, Uttarakhand and Goa along with parts of UP on February 14.
The third and fourth phases, restricted to UP, will be held on February 20 and 23 and the fifth phase will be held on 27 February, when polling will be held for the first phase of Manipur polls. Manipur’s second and final phase, along with the sixth phase in UP, will be held on March 3 while the seventh and final phase of UP will conclude on March 7.
The final counting of votes will take place on March 10, the ECI announced.
The CEC reiterated the ECI’s efforts to provide a level playing field to all the political parties going to polls in these five states, mentioning the additional expenditure granted to parties to take care of rising costs as well as the need to resort more to digital media in view of the restrictions on physical public interactions.
Except for Punjab, the BJP is ruling in the other four states where polls are being held.
When a journalist pointed out that the government traditionally announces the Union Budget on February 1 and asked if the Commission plans to issue any guidelines to ensure that Budget announcements do not in any way influence the poll campaign, the CEC dismissed the suggestion outright, saying that the Budget is for the entire country and not just these five states.
The CEC mentioned in passing the issue of hate speeches, but as for any penal action, he left it to the discretion of the concerned District Magistrate and Chief Secretary to proceed against any candidate indulging in this or any such action.
He contended that action was taken against all those who defied the EC diktat in the last round of polls.