The Election Commission (EC) is confident of holding the five assembly polls due early next year, including in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, on time as the poll panel has gained a lot of experience from the electoral exercise in Bihar, West Bengal and four other Assemblies during the raging pandemic, Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra has asserted.
The terms of the legislative Assemblies of Goa, Manipur, Punjab and Uttarakhand are coming to an end in March 2022, while the term of the Uttar Pradesh legislative Assembly is scheduled to end in May.
"That is the foremost duty of the Election Commission that we should hold the elections and submit the list of the winning candidates (to the governor) before the term of the Assembly expires," Sushi Chandra told news agency PTI in an interview.
He was asked whether the poll panel will be able to hold the assembly polls due in five states on time due to Covid-19 as recently it has deferred some Lok Sabha and assembly bypolls due to the second wave.
Some Rajya Sabha bypolls and biennial legislative council elections were also deferred due to the deadly second wave of the pandemic.
"As you are aware that the second wave of COVID-19 is also receding and the numbers (of infections) are quite less. We have done elections in Bihar during the pandemic, we have done elections in four states and one Union Territory. We have experience... We have gained experiences on how to hold polls during the pandemic also," he said.
"I am very sure that with the pandemic receding now, and I wish the pandemic is over soon, we will absolutely be in a position to hold elections next year, which are scheduled in five states, on time, as per the schedule," Mr Chandra said.
While Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur have BJP-led governments, Punjab has a Congress government.
Uttar Pradesh, the country's most populous state, has approximately 14.66 crore voters, while Punjab has over 2 crore electors, according to January 1, 2021 data of the Election Commission. Uttarakhand has 78.15 lakh voters while Manipur has 19.58 lakh and Goa has 11.45 lakh electors. The five states together have an estimated 17.84 crore voters.
Ahead of the Bihar polls held last year, the EC had taken various steps to ensure a "Covid-free" election such as allowing people above 80 and those suffering from COVID-19 to use postal ballot and reducing the number of voters per polling station from 1,500 to 1,000 to ensure distancing norms.
The number of polling stations had increased by nearly 80,000 in the four states and one Union Territory due to the distancing norms as a lesser number of voters were allowed per polling station.
The same principles were adopted in elections to West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry.
However, after it found that Covid safety rules were being violated in West Bengal during campaigning, the Election Commission had banned roadshows and vehicle rallies in the state and capped the maximum permissible number of people at public meetings at 500. The decision was taken when the last few phases of polls in West Bengal were still to be held.
The Commission had also banned victory processions during and after the counting of votes on May 2.