Kolkata: The Calcutta High Court rebuked the Election Commission on Thursday over its handling of the ongoing pandemic, eight phase elections in Bengal at times when the whole country is in grip of Covid second wave. Concerned that poll rallies might become super-spreader events, the court observed that the polling body is not doing enough in this respect even though it has the powers to do so.
“The Election Commission is empowered to act, but what is it doing about polls in these Covid times? The EC is just passing circulars and leaving it to the people. But the EC has implementing authority,” the court said.
Remarking that the Commission “is not doing one-tenth of what TN Seshan had done”, the judges warned that if Commission did not take action, the court will.
Notably, the Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court was hearing three petitions which contend that the EC had no constitutional power to implement Covid guidelines and that the court should therefore step in.
The hearing took place barely 24 hours ago, the commission had turned down the petitions of two political leaders from the state who sought that the remaining three phases of the election be clubbed together in view of the fast spreading pandemic.
In its response to ruling state party TMC’s Derek O’Brien and Congress’s Adhir Ranjan Choudhury, the poll body had said it has already issued safety norms for Covid, cut down on daily campaign hours and extended the “period of silence” — stopping of campaign before polls — from 48 to 72 to 72 hours.
Over the last years, many had remembered former Chief Election Commissioner TN Seshan, who ruthlessly enforced the model code of conduct and led the game-changing electoral reforms in the 1990s, while censuring the present-day Election Commission.
“Unlike today, there was a time when our Election Commissioners were impartial, respected, brave and feared. Shri T N Seshan was one of them. My condolences to his family on his passing,” Congress’s Rahul Gandhi had tweeted when Mr Seshan died in November 2019.
Some political parties, mainly the CPM and the Congress, have cut down on their big ticket campaign as the daily surge of the infection showed an upward trajectory. Earlier this week, it crossed the 10,000 mark for the first time. However, it failed to deterred the two main contenders, the ruling Trinamool Congress and the challenger BJP.
As the sixth phase of election is being held today, Union minister Amit Shah is scheduled to attend three election meetings in the state. Bengal BJP chief Dilip Ghosh has four road shows and the BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari is holding three roadshows in Kolkata, which has been hit worst by the pandemic.
While, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold four rallies tomorrow with attendees capped at 500.
Whereas, Chief Minister and TMC leader Mamata Banerjee, who has cancelled all rallies but one in Kolkata and has cut short the length of her speeches to under 40 minutes. Ms Banerjee is scheduled to hold four public meetings in north and central Bengal on Thursday.