ECI responds to query on massive rallies in UP amidst Omicron scare

"Our responsibility begins after poll dates are announced and the model code of conduct kicks in. Till then, the responsibility lies with the state government," said CEC, Chandra.

Lucknow: On a three-day visit to Lucknow to review preparations for the elections slated to be held early next year, chief election commissioner Sushil Chandra held a series of meetings with representatives of different political parties as well as state and district-level officials.

Elections are due in Uttar Pradesh by mid-March when the term of the Yogi Adityanath government ends.

Chandra on Thursday said all political parties in Uttar Pradesh want the Assembly elections to be held according to schedule while ensuring Covid protocol.

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Rallies for the upcoming elections are taking place across UP, violating COVID-19 norms. The CEC stated that it is the responsibility of the state government to ensure no norms are being violated. He added that that the Election Commission will take over only after poll dates are announced.

“Our responsibility begins after poll dates are announced and the model code of conduct kicks in. Till then, the responsibility lies with the state government and they would act as per recommendations of the state disaster management authority,” Chandra said in response to a query on whether the commission will take any steps regarding the ongoing poll rallies that are being held in blatant violation of Covid norms.

“We have held discussions with the health secretary and other officials and we will definitely issue detailed guidelines once elections are announced,” he added.

Chandra also said that political parties in the state have raised the violation of Covid norms in rallies and asked for curbs to be put in place.

A number of states in the country, with large populations, are scheduled to have their elections in the first half of 2022 and arrangements are being made to ensure COVID-19 protocols are followed.

He listed out the arrangements to ensure that COVID-19 cases do not surge after the polls.

Talking about the present status of vaccinations in UP Chandra said, “I have been told that 86 percent of the people in the state have got the first dose and 49 percent the second shot of Covid vaccine… We have been assured that in 15 to 20 days all eligible people will get their first dose,” the chief election commissioner said. “We have asked for increasing vaccination.”

The situation arising out of the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus was also reviewed. It has been noted that “there was not much impact of the latest variant in the state where only four cases were reported and three of them have recovered”, Chandra said.

He said because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of polling booths in the state will be enhanced by 11,000 to maintain proper social distancing. “Polling time will also be increased by an hour,” the CEC said.

“Earlier, a booth was made for 1,500 voters. But keeping in mind the Covid pandemic, the number of voters in each booth has been reduced to 1,250. Because of this, the number of polling booths has increased by 11,000. So, a total of 1,74,351 polling booths will be set up (in Uttar Pradesh),” he said.

“Polling officials will be vaccinated and those eligible will also be given a booster dose. Thermal scanners, masks will be provided at all polling booths and special care will be on maintaining social distancing besides proper sanitisation of booths,” he added.

To ensure free and fair elections and to ensure a level playing field, the election commission ordered the transfer of officials who have been posted at one place for over a year after various political parties cast their aspersions over this.

“Around 5,000 policemen have been transferred and the remaining will be transferred soon. There will be 4,030 model polling booths– 10 at each constituency –. Also, 800 all-women polling stations will be set up, he said.

Chandra added that for the first time, senior citizens and those differently-abled will have the option of casting their votes from their houses.

(With inputs from PTI)

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