In the poll-bound West Bengal, all the necessary preparations are being finalised for the Sixth Phase polling of Assembly Elections on Thursday. 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 an 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 ensure 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.
During the Sixth Phase, total 306 candidates including 27 women will be vying for the 43 Assembly seats spread over four districts of West Bengal going to polls in this phase on 22nd of April. Over 1.03 crore voters including 50.65 lakh women and 256 Third Gender persons will decide the fate of these candidates. Total 14,480 Polling Stations have been set up for this purpose. Ruling AITC and Bharatiya Janata Party are contesting for all the 43 seats. Congress, Left parties and their alliance partner Indian Secular Front are fighting under the banner of Sanyukta Morcha. BSP has fielded 37 candidates, CPI (M) has 23, Congress – 12, AIFB – four and CPI two while there are 82 independents along with 60 others are also in the fray.
The prominent candidates participating in this phase include State Ministers and AITC candidates Ujjal Biswas from Krishnanagar Dakshin, Swapan Debnath from Purbasthali Dakshin and Chandrima Bhattacharya along with CPI (M) leader Tanmoy Bhattacharya from Dumdum Uttar while BJP National Vice President Mukul Roy is contesting from Krishnanagar Uttar and Senior Congress leaders Mohit Sengupta from Raiganj and Abdus Sattar is also in the fray from Baduria. Former AITC Minister Abdul Karim Chowdhary has entered the electoral battle from Islampur, Pundrikaksha Saha from Nabdweep and CPI leader Srikumar Mukherjee from Itahar while AITC leader Jyotipriya Mallick and BJP leader Rahul Sinha are also trying their luck from Habra.
The high-decibel electioneering campaign for the Sixth Phase of Assembly Elections reached a crescendo before its conclusion last evening. In view of rising cases of COVID-19, the Election Commission decided to curtail the campaign timing for the remaining three 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 a day earlier than that of its scheduled conclusion. The poll body took a serious view against the repeated violations of COVID-19 norms by political leaders, campaigners and candidates.
The election campaign has now gained momentum for the Seventh as well as the Eighth and Final Phase of the Assembly Elections with the prominent leaders of different political parties engaging in whirlwind tours for canvassing in favour of their candidates.
In the wake of COVID-19, the BJP decided not to hold big rallies and public meetings in West Bengal. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other senior leaders will address small meetings in the state with maximum 500 people. In a statement, the party said, all these public meetings will be held in open spaces following COVID-19 guidelines. The party also set a target to distribute six crore masks and sanitizers in the state. Earlier, Left Parties, Congress and ISF and the ruling AITC also announced not to hold big rallies during the remaining part of the campaign.
During the Seventh Phase of elections, 34 out of previously scheduled 36 Assembly Constituencies spread over five districts will go to polls on 26th of April as the poll process in respect of two seats was adjourned by the Election Commission following deaths of the candidates. In Samserganj Assembly Constituency, Congress candidate Rejaul Haque passed away due to COVID-19 while in Jangipur Assembly Constituency, Revolutionary Socialist Party candidate Pradeep Kumar Nandy also lost his life due to the same infection. The Commission will issue fresh poll notifications separately in this regard. 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.