In the poll-bound West Bengal, all the necessary preparations are being finalised for the Seventh Phase polling of Assembly Elections on Monday. The polling will be conducted from 7.00 A.M. to 6.30 P.M. The Election Commission has decided to use Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) along with Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) at every Polling Station, with a view to enhance the transparency and credibility of the election process, as VVPAT allows the voter to verify his/her vote. The arrangements have already been made to ensure availability of adequate number of EVMs and VVPATs for the smooth conduct of elections.
In view of the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic, the Election Commission has decided to allow maximum 1,000 electors in a Polling Station instead of earlier stipulation of 1,500 electors. Option of Postal Ballot facility has been extended to the electors who are COVID- 19 positive or suspect as certified by competent authority and are in home or institutional quarantine along with those marked as Persons with Disabilities (PwD) and above the age of 80 years. It will be ensured that every Polling Station is equipped with Assured Minimum Facilities (AMF) like drinking water, waiting shed, toilet with water facility, adequate arrangements for lighting, ramp of appropriate gradient for the Persons with Disabilities. The special facilities will include mandatory sanitization of Polling Station, thermal checking of voters at entry point either by polling staff or paramedical staff or an Asha worker. If temperature is above the set norms of Health Ministry, then the elector will be provided with token and asked to come for voting at the last hour of poll. At the last hour of poll, such electors will be facilitated for voting, strictly following COVID-19 related preventive measures.
The high-profile electioneering campaign for the Seventh Phase of Assembly Elections concluded last evening on a subdued note. In view of rising cases of COVID-19, the Election Commission prohibited any road shows, Pad-Yatras and vehicle rallies in light of non-adherence to the COVID protocols by many political parties. In an order issued on Thursday, the Central Poll body said that public meetings beyond the limit of 500 persons will not be allowed in the state. The new provisions will be in place till the conclusion of the ongoing polls.
Taking strong cognisance of the non-adherence of COVID protocols during campaigning by several political parties, the Commission reiterated its direction to all the political parties to strictly adhere to the COVID protocols in all the future rallies in the state. Earlier, the poll body decided to curtail the campaign timing for the remaining phases of eight-phase Assembly Elections. The Commission banned campaigning from 7 P.M. to 10 A.M. on all days, when it is allowed. It also extended the Silence Period from 48 hours to 72 hours before polling for the remaining phases and as a result, the campaign ended last evening.
In the wake of COVID-19, all the prominent political parties decided not to hold big rallies and public meetings in West Bengal. The polling process is already over in respect of 223 out of the total 294 Assembly seats in the earlier six phases.
During the Seventh Phase, total 268 candidates including 37 women will be vying for the 34 out of previously scheduled 36 Assembly seats spread over five districts of West Bengal going to polls on Monday as the poll process in respect of Samserganj and Jangipur was adjourned by the Election Commission following deaths of the candidates in the two Assembly Constituencies. Over 81.88 lakh voters including 39.87 lakh women and 221 Third Gender persons will decide the fate of these candidates. Total 11,376 Polling Stations have been set up for this purpose. Ruling AITC and Bharatiya Janata Party are contesting for all the 34 seats. Congress, Left parties and their alliance partner Indian Secular Front are fighting under the banner of Sanyukta Morcha. Bahujan Samaj Party has fielded 25 candidates, Congress has 18, CPI (M) – 12, ISF – four, RSP- three and AIFB – one while there are 63 independents along with 74 others are also in the fray.
The prominent candidates participating in this phase include State Ministers and AITC candidates Subrata Sah from Sagardighi, Firhad Hakim from Kolkata Port, Subrata Mukherjee from Ballygunge,Malay Ghatak from Asansol Uttar along with Sovondev Chattopadhyay who is taking on BJP candidate and actor Rudranil Ghosh from Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s erstwhile constituency of Bhabanipur. BJP has fielded noted Economist Ashoke Kumar Lahiri from Balurghat and former Mayor of Asansol Kumar Jitendra Twari from Pandabeswar while CPI (M) Central Committee Member Abhas Roy Chowdhury from Durgapur Purba, Congress leaders Mostaque Alam from Harishchandrapur, Mainul Haque from Farakka and Abu Hena from Lalgola are also in the fray. In addition, Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union President Aishi Ghosh is the CPI (M) candidate from Jamuria while BJP candidate and Fashion Designer Agnimitra Paul and AITC candidate Sayani Ghosh are vying with each other in Asansol Dakshin.
Presently, the election campaign is in full swing for the Eighth and Final Phase of the Assembly Elections as the prominent leaders of different political parties engaging in whirlwind tours for canvassing in favour of their candidates. The remaining 35 Assembly Constituencies spread over four districts will go to polls in the Eighth and Final Phase on 29th of April. The counting of votes will be taken up together on 2nd of May.
Meanwhile, the Election Commission issued fresh poll notifications in respect of Samserganj and Jangipur Assembly Constituencies. The polling in these two constituencies will now be held on 16th of May and the whole process of elections will be completed by 21st of May. Similarly, in case of Assembly By-poll to Pipili seat in Odisha, the polling will be held on 16th of May and the counting of votes will be taken up on 19th of May.