Parties Flouting COVID-19 Rules With Impunity, Says Election Commission

District machinery must invoke penal provisions against violators, the Election Commission's letter says.

Election rallies seldom follow social distancing, the poll panel has pointed.

New Delhi:

The Election Commission has said political parties have been putting candidates and the general public at the risk of COVID-19 infection by not following the guidelines issued by it.

The poll panel had issued these norms in August, particularly in the run up to the Bihar assembly polls scheduled for October 28 to November 7. These included larger public spaces, more online interventions, a less crowded nomination process, and stricter campaigning measures.

However, in a letter issued on Wednesday to state and national political parties, the Election Commission said instances of large crowds violating social distancing at political meets and leaders addressing gatherings without wearing masks have come to its notice.

On October 15, for example, several people were injured in Bihar's Saran district when a stage set up for a Janata Dal (United) leader collapsed due to overcrowding. It was observed that no COVID-19 protocols were followed at this event attended by hundreds.

"By doing so, the political parties and candidates are not only flouting the guidelines of the Commission with impunity but exposing themselves as well as the public attending the rallies/meetings to the danger of infection during the pandemic," the letter said.

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Taking a serious view of such laxity, it reiterated its earlier advise to demonstrate utmost vigil and care during electioneering.

"CEOs and the district machinery would be expected…to invoke…penal provisions against the candidates…(and) organisers responsible for such violations," the letter said. Under provisions of the Disaster Management Act and IPC, violation of the COVID-19 guidelines could result in a jail term of up to two years.

India has recorded over 77 lakh COVID-19 cases till now, with fatalities reaching more than 1.16 lakh. The country has 7.16 lakh active cases as of today.