The Election Commission on Friday wrote to all national and regional political parties seeking their "views and suggestions" on conduct of election campaign during the "pandemic period" after several opposition parties in Bihar asked the EC to ensure that the upcoming assembly polls do not become a "super spreader event".
In its one-page letter, the commission sought their replies by July 31 and said that bypolls in some states and the Bihar assembly elections are due this year. The Bihar assembly elections are expected to take place in October-November time frame.
The central poll panel's letter came after several opposition parties in Bihar on Friday urged the EC to assure voters that the upcoming assembly polls will not become a "super spreader event" owing to the COVID-19 infection, and urged the poll body to restrict the number of voters per polling station to 250 to ensure physical distancing.
The EC, while referring to the "current situation of COVID-19 in the country", said several guidelines have been issued by the Centre and state governments under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and some other laws to ensure safety and contain the spread of coronavirus in the country.
"Some of the precautionary measures prescribed include compulsory wearing of face mask in public places, social distance, maintaining a prescribed minimum social distance in public places including restrictions on large public gatherings/congregations, thermal scanning at the place of gathering, sanitisation etc," the EC said.
Keeping these issues in mind, the EC asked the parties to send their "views and suggestions latest by July 31, 2020 so that necessary guidelines may be firmed up for the election campaign by candidates or political parties for the conduct of election during pandemic period."
The opposition parties submitted a memorandum to the poll panel drawing its attention to the COVID-19 situation in Bihar, and later held a virtual meeting with the Commission top brass.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the state badly. In capital city Patna, as many as 89 containment zones and over 16 districts have been put under lockdown for another 15 days with effect from July 16," the memorandum stated.
"People need explicit clarity so that wholesome participation of the majority of voters is not adversely impacted. People also expect the commission to ensure and satisfy the people that entire poll exercise does not become a super spreader event," it said.
The opposition parties, including the Rashtriya Janata Dal, CPI, CPI(M) and Hindustan Awam Morcha, wondered how the poll panel will ensure physical distancing of at least two yards in a state with a population of around 13 crore and an electorate of 7.5 crore.
"We informed the Commission about the 'serious' ground situation in the state regarding the pandemic. When we were drafting the memorandum, the detected cases stood at 22,000 and while the meeting was still on, the cases went up to 23,000," claimed RJD MP Manoj Jha after the meet.
Asked whether they appealed that the assembly polls should be delayed in view of the pandemic, Jha said no such demand was raised.
"We said right to life is also important. In a democracy, an election is a festival. You cannot have barriers and hindrances in the wholesome participation to that festival," he said.