The Election Commission was today censured by the Calcutta High Court over its handling of the mammoth eight-phase election in Bengal in the middle of a lethal Covid second wave. Amid concerns that poll rallies might become super-spreader events, the court observed that the Commission 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.
Commenting 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.
Over the last years, many had cited 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 TN 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.
The court sought action taken report from the Election Commission on enforcing Covid rules and an affidavit on the issue for tomorrow's hearing. It added that it was not satisfied about EC circulars being enforced by its officials.
The observations of the Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court came during the hearing of three petitions, which contend that the Election Commission had no constitutional power to implement Covid guidelines and that the court should therefore step in.
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 infection.
In its response to Trinamool Congress's Derek O'Brien and Congress's Adhir Ranjan Choudhury, the Election Commission 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 hours.
Some political parties -- notably the CPM and the Congress -- 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.
But it has not deterred the two main contenders -- the ruling Trinamool Congress and the challenger BJP.
As the sixth phase of election was held today, Union minister Amit Shah had many poll meetings in the state. Bengal BJP chief Dilip Ghosh had four road shows and the party's Suvendu Adhikari had roadshows in Kolkata, which is among cities worst-hit by Covid.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold four rallies tomorrow with attendees capped at 500.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee -- who has cancelled all rallies but one in Kolkata and has cut short the length of her speeches to under 40 minutes -- held public meetings in north and central Bengal today.