Door-to-door campaigns with only five people and gloves for voters before they press the button at electronic voting machines are some of the guidelines for holding elections amid the coronavirus pandemic. A maximum of 1,000 voters can be present at any polling booth at a time, and every voter's body temperature will be checked before the person is allowed to enter the booth.
Voters whose body temperature is found to be more than the safe threshold set by the Health Ministry will be checked twice, and if the result remains the same, then they will be asked to visit again in the last hour of polling. "At the last hour of poll, such electors shall be facilitated voting, strictly following COVID-19 related preventive measures," the Election Commission said in its latest guidelines.
It said public meetings and road shows can be organised but must follow COVID-19 containment conditions set by the centre.
Candidates can file nominations and deposit security money online, the Election Commission said in the 12-page document titled "Broad Guidelines for Conduct of General Elections/By-Elections During COVID-19".
Other standard safety measures like wearing masks, using sanitizers, installing thermal scanners and wearing personal protection equipment (PPE) kits will continue during the election process.
Elections are due in later this year in Bihar, which has reported 1.15 lakh coronavirus cases and over 570 deaths till now. The Election Commission, however, has not made any announcement about the schedule.
"Nodal health officer shall be designated for the state, the district and the assembly constituency to oversee COVID-19 related arrangements and, preventive measures during entire electoral process," the Election Commission said. "Training for election officials may be organised through online mode," it said.
A reserve pool of polling, counting and other staff will be maintained by the Returning Officer to replace election staff who show symptoms of coronavirus infection.
Only two people and two vehicles can accompany a candidate if coming to the election office to file papers.
"Returning Officer's chamber should have sufficient space to perform the functions of nomination, scrutiny and symbol allocation following social distancing norms. Returning Officer should allot staggered time in advance to prospective candidates," the Election Commission said.
The carrying cases of control units and voter-verifiable paper trail will be sanitised before they are placed on counting tables.
In Bihar, except Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) and the BJP, almost all major political parties have demanded that elections be postponed due to the coronavirus threat.
"What sort of elections would be held under these circumstances? Every polling station will turn out to be a coronavirus infection centre after elections, and it is difficult to predict the extent to which the disease might spread," former union minister Yashwant Sinha said on Thursday.
The Congress said the Election Commission's guidelines "fall far short for the conduct of free, fair and independent elections in times of coronavirus infections".
"Despite having sought comments from political parties such as the Indian National Congress and in response to which detailed recommendations were given, the ECI has overlooked almost all the suggestions given and prepared guidelines that are inadequate in dealing with the challenge of COVID-19," Congress MP and general secretary KC Venugopal said in a statement.