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How EC plans to hold Bihar poll amid COVID-19

By Subhomoy Bhattacharjee
July 20, 2020 14:02 IST
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'How do you apply indelible ink without coming into contact?'
'There have to be options for other activities like casting of vote where you press a button and that of the signature identifying oneself.'
'None of our procedures should lead to exposure to infections.'

 

The Bihar assembly election due by November will be the first test case of how an election will be conducted during a pandemic in India.

"No one can predict what will happen three or four months down the line, least of all the EC. The commission's endeavour is to plan for the possible eventualities in view of the pandemic," Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa tells Subhomoy Bhattacharjee.

What are the precautions you expect the Election Commission of India will have to take for ensuring the safety of voters?

The EC does not issue any original notifications in matters of ensuring health or safety of voters.

The broad guidelines are to be issued by the ministry of home affairs and of health. We shall reproduce those to insist on the sort of restrictions that would apply and the behaviour of the people allowed at the election sites like polling booths, counting centres and so on.

Our safeguards will reinforce the guidelines issued by the relevant authorities for ensuring safe polling processes.

Are there any discussions on about deferring the polls due to the pandemic?

What we are looking at is if this (present) situation continues and similar restrictions apply at that point of time, how we can facilitate voters' participation.

Ultimately, we have to make arrangement so that voters can come out to vote safely.

So we are looking at making appropriate changes in all the facilities as required.

No one can predict what will happen three or four months down the line, least of all the EC. The commission's endeavour is to plan for the possible eventualities in view of the pandemic.

What will be the key changes in how people vote?

Our officers are working on identifying specific activities where safeguards have to be taken.

Some of those are plans like how to make people queue up, maintain distance in the line while waiting to vote, the layout of the polling station itself, the ways the polling station staff have to be seated and so on.

Then there are other specific activities where there is human contact.

For instance, identification of the voter does not need human contact.

But how do you apply indelible ink without coming into contact?

What then are the possible alternatives to those?

Is it possible that instead of a brush we could think of someone applying the ink and disposing off the stick as a one use option?

We have not zeroed down on any specific solutions, instead we are exploring alternatives for optimal solutions.

There have to be options or alternatives for other activities too, like that of casting of vote where you press a button and that of the signature identifying oneself.

Yet at every stage we must ensure there is no compromise on health standards.

None of our procedures should lead to exposure to infections. But on some things we are clear, we are not considering the option of internet voting.

This will raise the cost of conducting elections, no doubt.

Certainly. We are now estimating the costs and the possible sources of supply of items like human gloves and other items required. These are decisions we shall announce at the appropriate time with the modifications needed.

So Bihar will be the test case. Also those campaigning for the elections.

Yes. It is not for us to mandate how many meetings a party has to conduct, or prescribe the number of vehicles.

The parties will take a call observing the restrictions issued by state governments.

We only reinforce those norms, and will consider issuing other guidance as required.

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Subhomoy Bhattacharjee
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