No public rallies, foot marches or roadshows can be held in Bengal for the last two rounds of the assembly elections, the Election Commission said this evening -- hours after it was ordered to take action in view of the rising Covid cases by the Calcutta High Court. All previous orders for rallies and roadshows stand cancelled and only meetings that are attended by no more than 500 people, will be allowed, the Commission said.
Bengal, which crossed the 10,000-mark in daily surges for the first time two days ago, logged 11,948 cases over the last 24 hours. Fifty-six fatalities were also recorded.
Amid concerns that poll rallies might become super-spreader events, the court, while hearing appeals for intervention, sought an action taken report from the Commission tomorrow. The judges said if the Commission fails to take action, they would do the needful.
In its order, the Commission said it had noted "with anguish" that many political parties/candidates are still not adhering to the prescribed safety norms during public gatherings, which made this measure necessary.
Yesterday, the Commission had turned down appeals from Trinamool Congress's Derek O'Brien and Congress's Adir Choudhury to club together the remaining three phases of elections in view of the rising Covid cases.
In the order, the Commission said it has already issued safety norms for Covid, cutting down on daily campaign hours and extending the "period of silence" from 48 to 72 hours.
During the hearing today, the court was harsh on the poll body, observing that it was just "passing circulars and leaving it to the people" to adhere to when it has the "implementing authority".
Invoking former Election Commissioner TN Seshan --- known for his fierce adherence to the Model Code of Conduct that ushered in ground-breaking electoral reforms in the 1990s -- the court said the Commission "is not doing one-tenth of what TN Seshan had done".
This afternoon, the BJP wiped the electoral calendar of its star campaigners in Bengal after Prime Minister Narendra Modi cancelled his tomorrow's visit to the state citing urgent meetings to review the Covid situation in the country.
The BJP's focus on the Bengal election during the Covid-linked crisis has been sharply criticised by the opposition and a section of the civil society.
Trinamool Congress chief and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has also cancelled all her political rallies.
Dubbing the Covid situation a "national emergency", the Supreme Court has sought a "national plan" from the government regarding its control.