‘After Bihar, upcoming elections in Bengal, TN will be held on schedule’: EC Sushil Chandra
In an interview to Deeksha Bhardwaj, election commissioner Sushil Chandra, who will take over as chief election commissioner next year, elaborates on precautions taken for Bihar polls, the first elections since the Covid-19 outbreak:
The Bihar election was the first major poll to be held during the pandemic, how was the voter turnout?
We ensured that global guidelines for social distancing and sanitisation were unanimously followed. This, in turn, helped us achieve the safety of each voter against Covid-19.
Nearly 57.92 per cent voters turned out for the third phase, more than the turnout in 2015, which was 56.66 per cent. Overall, we have seen an increase in electoral participation as compared to the last election, which is very heartening amid a pandemic.
What challenges did you face during the election?
The biggest challenge, of course, was getting voters to comply with Covid-19 guidelines like social distancing and sanitisation.
Safety of voters was another big challenge. Everyone assumed that the voter turnout would decrease because of the pandemic, but with the continuous efforts of SVEEP (Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation program is a voter-awareness program of the EC) and other initiatives undertaken by the Commission, we were able to encourage the voters to feel safe during the pandemic.
How were the elections amid pandemic different?
More CAPF personnel than usual were deployed for the Bihar polls. This ensured that there was not even a single case of booth capturing.
In terms of expenditure related seizures, items worth of ₹66.41 crore were seized. These included alcohol, narcotic substances, cash and freebies. This is exponentially more than the ₹28.82 crore-worth seizure during the 2015 assembly election and the ₹8.1 crore-worth seizure during the 2019 Lok Sabha election in the state.
What are the major takeaways from the Bihar elections?
The biggest takeaway has to be that even if a vaccine for Covid-19 is not developed soon, future elections in the country will be held on schedule. If the Covid-19 pandemic recedes, we will all be very happy. In case it doesn’t, guidelines similar to those put in place for Bihar will have to be observed for other upcoming elections — including those in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Kerala and Puducherry. It’s been a very peaceful and safe election in Bihar and that gives us immense hope.
The ECI assigned a specific Covid-hour for people who had tested positive for the infection, those under quarantine and those with high temperatures or other symptoms. What was the impact?
Over 240 Covid-19 positive patients chose to exercise their franchise and cast their ballot during the three phases of the election. None of them used the postal ballots that were provided to them and cast their votes in person at the polling booths.
Additionally, during this one hour, all polling officials were clad in PPE kits.
Was the election inclusive in terms of participation from all sections?
The election was an especially inclusive one with the commission setting up at least two polling stations in every assembly constituency that were run only by women.
Additional arrangements were made for Covid-19 patients, senior citizens and people with disabilities.
The commission also conducted an international webinar with participation from nearly 30-40 countries to showcase the arrangements it had made during the Covid-19 pandemic.
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