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Ahead of results, Election Commission drafts 3-layer plan against Covid

The counting for state polls in West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry is scheduled for May 2 amid an alarming surge in infections that has overwhelmed the country’s health care infrastructure.
By Deeksha Bhardwaj, New Delhi
UPDATED ON APR 29, 2021 01:22 AM IST
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters wear masks of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they gather for a rally addressed by Modi ahead of West Bengal state elections in Kolkata, India.(AP)

The Election Commission of India (ECI) announced a three-layer plan on Wednesday to ward off the threat of coronavirus infections during the counting of votes for assembly elections, ordering more counting halls, banning public gatherings outside centres and allowing entry to candidates or polling agents only if they are fully vaccinated or have a Covid negative report.

The counting for state polls in West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry is scheduled for May 2 amid an alarming surge in infections that has overwhelmed the country’s health care infrastructure. Results for bypolls to assembly and Lok Sabha seats in 14 states, and local body polls in Uttar Pradesh will also be announced on the same day.

“Based on broad guidelines, a detailed Covid-19 related comprehensive plan for counting arrangements will be prepared at the state level, taking local conditions into account,” EC said in a statement.

The broad guidelines appoint the district election commission as the nodal officer at each counting centre, which will have to obtain a compliance certificate from the health authorities concerned.

“No candidates or agents will be allowed inside the counting hall without undergoing RT-PCR/RAT test or without having two doses of vaccination against Covid-19 and will have to produce negative RT-PCR report or RAT report or vaccination reports within 48 hours of start of counting,” the guidelines read. Public gatherings outside the counting hall are also banned. Masks, sanitisation, disinfection of the counting stations and social distancing norms have also been reiterated by ECI.

The directions come two days after the Madras high court blamed the ECI for the surge in infections and sought a detailed plan to ensure counting doesn’t lead to a spike. The EC has to submit its plan to the HC by Friday.

ECI has drawn flak for letting political parties flout Covid-19 protocols and refusing to club the final phases in Bengal, where polls were held across 34 days and eight rounds. “[A] Three-layer plan will be prepared in consultation with the concerned nodal health officers: AC [assembly constituency], district, and state levels. In case of by-elections, the plans will be prepared at the district and AC levels in consultation with respective nodal health officers,” the EC said.

Non-compliance with the instructions will result in prosecution under the disaster management act. ECI officials said the panel cleared the number of counting halls to ensure proper protocol is enforced.

The states of Kerala and Assam asked for additional counting halls as the number of postal ballots had increased significantly for these polls. Kerala will have approximately 600 counting halls across 18 locations, while Assam will set up around 331 counting halls across 54 locations. Puducherry has reduced the number of tables from seven to five, to ensure social distancing at all locations.

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