COVID Guidelines for General Election/ Bye Elections to Legislative Assemblies
By PIB Delhi
COVID GUIDELINES, 2022
Article 172 (1) of the Constitution of India states that the term of the legislative assembly shall be for five years from the date of its first meeting. The term of State Assemblies of Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat are due to expire on 8th January 2023 and 18th February 2023, respectively. Election Commission of India (hereinafter ECI) is committed to conducting a free, fair, participative, accessible, inclusive, and safe election to the Legislative Assemblies of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh before the cessation of its term, in the exercise of the authority and powers conferred upon under Article 324 read with Article 172 (1) of the Constitution of India and Section 15 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
2. The Commission is also duty bound to fulfil its constitutional mandate as per legal and institutional framework to steer elections for putting elected government in place within due time and also ensure the safety of vote and voters.
3. During the COVID period, Commission issued “Broad guidelines for the conduct of General Elections/Bye-elections during COVID-19” on 21st August 2020 to Conduct General Elections to legislative assemblies of Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam, West Bengal, and Puducherry. Thereafter, during general elections to legislative assemblies of Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh, the Commission reviewed the prevailing situation and issued “Revised Broad Guidelines, 2022” on 8th January 2022, wherein the Commission imposed restrictions on Campaign, rallies, etc. which was further relaxed vide Press Notes dated 15th January 2022, 22nd January 2022, 31st January 2022, 6th February 2022, 12th February 2022, 22nd February 2022 and 10th March 2022, in a phased manner.
4. The Commission held meetings with the Secretary, of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India on 7th September 2022 and with the Chief Secretary, Pr. Secretary (Home), Health Secretary, and Chief Electoral Officer of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh on 13th September 2022 to review COVID situation, Vaccination Status, exiting guidelines/directions of SDMA, arrangement for COVID during the upcoming festive season, etc. The Commission was briefed about the improved situation of COVID countrywide, preparedness to deal with any possible spike in the number of cases, and also the decision of NDMA not to invoke the provisions of the DM Act for COVID containment measures.
5. The Commission directed the Chief Secretaries and other Officers of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh to maintain and continue strict compliance with the advisories issued by MoHFW, especially the adherence to a 5-fold strategy of Test, Track, Treat, Vaccination, and COVID appropriate behavior. The Commission also instructed to vaccinate all eligible polling personnel and officials. Furthermore, the Commission directed both States to maintain strict vigil as per the parameters indicated by MoHFW and/or respective SDMAs and take appropriate graded action in case of any unwarranted deviation in such prescribed parameters related to the COVID situation during upcoming festive seasons & elections.
6. During the electoral process, the Chief Secretary at the State level and the District Magistrate at the District level shall be primarily responsible for monitoring, supervision, and enforcement of these COVID guidelines issued by the Commission.
7. All stakeholders, namely political parties, candidates, campaigners, voters, and authorities engaged in the election process, shall always be conscious of their prime duty towards public health/safety and shall observe COVID-appropriate behavior.
8. Details of the guidelines are as follows:
I.General Guidelines to be followed during the entire election process for all persons
i) All persons involved are advised to follow COVID-appropriate behavior during election-related activities.
ii) All eligible Polling Personnel/Security Personnel/Counting Staff shall be fully and preferably with a booster dose vaccinated before deploying/engaging in election-related activities.
iii) Create awareness among the public for COVID-appropriate behavior including self-monitoring.
II. Campaign by the political parties/contesting candidates/Others
i) During Outdoor meetings/indoor meetings/ Rallies/Road Shows/Pad-Yatras/Processions, the organisers and concerned political parties shall abide by the guidelines, if any issued by competent authorities, and ensure prescribed COVID-appropriate behaviour by persons participating. Organisers will be responsible for any breach of the COVID-related protocols and guidelines.
ii) Political Parties/candidates may hold their meetings and rallies, roadshows, Pad-yatra and procession, Door to Door campaigns, etc. subject to prior permission of all concerned authorities and instant instruction of the Commission on the matter.
iii) Allocation of public spaces must be done using Suvidha app in the manner already prescribed by the Commission.
III.)Polling Station Arrangements-
(i) The Commission has issued detailed instructions for assured minimum facilities at each polling station. Now, in view of COVID, the following additional facilities/steps may be taken, as required:
(a) Help Desk for distribution of tokens to the voters on a first come first basis so that they do not wait in the queue.
(b) Marker to demonstrate social distancing for the queue.
(c)Distance for voters standing in the queue would be maintained as per COVID norms, if any, prescribed by the competent authority and depending on the availability of space. There shall be three queues each, for male, female, and PwD/ Senior citizen voters.
(d) The services of BLOs, volunteers etc may be engaged to monitor and regulate social distancing norms, as prescribed by the competent authority.
(e) One shaded waiting area with chairs, dari, etc. will be provided, for males and females separately, within the polling station premises so that voters can participate in voting without safety concerns.
(f) Wherever possible, Booth App may be used at the polling station.
(g) Awareness posters on COVID should be displayed at visible locations as per norms prescribed by the competent authority.
(ii) COVID patients and all others who may be under quarantine will be allowed to cast their vote at the last hour of the poll day at their respective Polling Stations, under the supervision of health authorities, strictly following COVID-19-related preventive measures. Sector Magistrates shall coordinate this activity in their allocated polling stations.
Option of Postal Ballot facility has also been extended to the Electors who are COVID-positive/suspect and in quarantine(home/institutional).
V.)Counting of votes
(i) There shall be a maximum of 15 Counting Tables (including RO’sTable) for the counting of votes of a constituency as per the Commission’s existing instructions dated 30th April 2014.
(ii) No public gathering outside the counting venue during the process of the counting shall be permitted.
(iii) Candidate may appoint/replace counting agents in case the COVID report is positive.
9. As and when required and as per the evolving/ contextual needs, the Chief Secretary of the State, shall at once bring to the notice of the Commission any new trend, development /situation that is not covered by these COVID Guidelines and warrants Commission’s intervention during the electoral process in the State. The Commission may then issue further appropriate instructions with respect to the electoral process and thereby complementing the mandate/ efforts of the State in containing/ managing the spread of COVID.