New Delhi: Candidates or their agents will not be allowed inside counting halls without a negative coronavirus report or without having both Covid-19 vaccine doses, the Election Commission said Wednesday in its latest guidelines for counting of votes on May 2. Issued amid spiralling coronavirus cases, the guidelines bar public gatherings outside venues during the counting process, but allow candidates to name a fresh agent if the first one tests positive for Covid-19. Counting of votes for assembly polls in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry, besides various other assemblies and Lok Sabha bypolls begins at 8 am on May 2.
“No candidates or agents will be allowed inside the counting hall without undergoing RT-PCR/RAT test or without having two doses of vaccination against Covid-19 and will have to produce negative RT-PCR report or RAT report or vaccination reports within 48 hours of start of counting,” the guidelines read. The district election officers will organise Covid tests for candidates and their counting agents, it said.
The Madras High Court had earlier this week made harsh observations against the EC for failing to ensure Covid-appropriate behaviour during campaigning. The poll panel has to apprise the high court on April 30 about steps it has taken to ensure a Covid-safe counting process. The fresh EC guidelines go beyond the ones issued by poll panel for the Bihar assembly elections last year which were being used as a template for elections being held during the coronavirus pandemic.
On Tuesday, the poll panel had barred victory processions after counting to check large gatherings amid rising coronavirus cases. It had also restricted the number of people who could accompany the candidate to collect his or her election certificate from the returning officer. As per the latest guidelines, there should be sufficient number of personal protective equipment (PPE) kits for counting agents and candidates. “The counting agents’ sitting arrangement shall be made in such a way that between 2 counting agents 1 agent shall be in PPE,” the guideline read.
The counting hall, according to the EC, should be sufficiently big to maintain social distancing, and should have proper ventilation, windows, exhaust fan as per available protocol of the State Disaster Management Authority. The counting centres should be disinfected before, during and after the counting, while sealed outer boxes of electronic voting machines and paper trail machines should also be disinfected.
The number of counting tables to be allowed in a counting hall should be as per the size of the hall and keeping in view safety norms prescribed for Covid- 19, the Commission said. The counting of votes of a constituency may be considered at 3-4 halls by appointing additional assistant returning officers, the EC said.
The staff and security personnel deployed for counting will be provided with face masks and shields, sanitisers and gloves, it said.