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West Bengal

West Bengal State Election Commission defers elections to four municipal bodies by three weeks as COVID-19 rages across the State

Published : Jan 15, 2022 20:22 IST T+T-
Pilgrims at the bank of Hooghly river during 'Makar Sankranti', in Kolkata on January 14.

Pilgrims at the bank of Hooghly river during 'Makar Sankranti', in Kolkata on January 14.

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages across West Bengal, the West Bengal State Election Commission (WBSEC) on January 15 deferred the upcoming elections to four municipal bodies by three weeks.

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages across West Bengal, the West Bengal State Election Commission (WBSEC) on January 15 deferred the upcoming elections to four municipal bodies by three weeks. Bidhannagar, Siliguri, Asansol and Chandannagar Municipal Corporations, which were scheduled to go to the polls on January 22, will instead have their elections on February 12. The WBSEC’s order comes a day after the Calcutta High Court directed the commission to consider postponing the civic elections by four to six weeks due to the pandemic.

In its order dated January 15, the WBSEC said: “In compliance with the solemn Order dated 13.01, 2022 of the Hon’ble Division Bench, High Court Calcutta, in the matter WPA(P) No. 4 of 2022 Bimal Bhattacharya vs State of West Bengal and others, the West Bengal State Election Commission, on consideration of the prevalent COVID19 pandemic situation… in modification of its earlier notification No. 1347-SEC/LE-9912021 dated 28.12.2021 in respect of the Municipal Corporations mentioned in the schedule below, hereby appoints the 12th day of February, 2022, as the date on which the poll shall be taken from 07.00 AM to 05.00 PM, without interruption.”

A High Court Bench comprising Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice Ajoy Kumar Mukherjee had directed the State Election Commission on January 14 “to consider the galloping speed with which the COVID cases are increasing and also to take into account the issue of holding of elections in such a situation will be in the public interest and if free and fair elections will be possible on the dates notified, and take a decision in respect of the postponement of date of elections of aforesaid four Municipal Corporations for a short period of 4 to 6 weeks”. The court also directed WBSEC to arrive at a decision within 48 hours.

While all political parties welcomed the WBSEC’s decision, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pointed out that while the High Court had suggested postponing the elections by four to six weeks, the commission had deferred it only by three weeks. Samik Bhattacharya, the BJP spokesperson, said: “The way cases are rising, we cannot tell what the situation will be like in the second week of February. Time will tell whether this decision is correct or not.”

Abhishek Banerjee, all-India general secretary, Trinamool Congress, and Lok Sabha MP, said on social media: “I wholeheartedly thank Hon’ble High Court & SEC for postponing polls by 3 weeks in the state. Let us work UNITEDLY to ensure that the positivity rate in Bengal is BROUGHT DOWN to LESS THAN 3% IN THE NEXT 3 WEEKS. The need of the hour is to strengthen the fight against #COVID !” Abhishek Banerjee, Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and widely considered the heir apparent to the Trinamool party leadership, was the first within the Trinamool to suggest deferring the elections due to the COVID-19 situation, sparking off criticism from a section of the ruling party.

The number of new COVID-19 cases in the State as of January 15 was 19,064, and the number of active cases stood at 1,65,269. The positivity rate in the State stood at 29.52 per cent and the discharge rate at 90.68 per cent. The number of deaths has been increasing gradually and 39 people lost their lives to COVID-19 on January 15, taking the total death toll to 20,091. The fatality rate in the State stood at 1.07 per cent. With the Ganga Sagar Mela happening in full sway and lakhs of pilgrims coming to the State since January 8, doctors fear the daily cases will spike further in the days to come.