Bihar Assembly elections: EC finalises guidelines for holding polls during COVID-19, may allow virtual, physical campaigns in state

Bihar, where Assembly elections will be held later this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, is likely to witness a mix of virtual and physical campaigning by political parties.

The Election Commission is likely to be open to the concept of a combination of virtual and physical campaigning in Bihar and it could also be implemented in other elections if they are held amid the pandemic, sources in the poll panel said.

They said certain restrictions on physical campaigning were a must to keep a check on the spread of coronavirus.

The commission has finalised a set of guidelines for holding the upcoming elections and by-elections during COVID-19 and these could be announced this week. The guidelines have been framed based on the inputs of political parties and chief electoral officers of various states.

On the issue of holding rallies, the commission may leave it to the local authorities to decide the number of people who can participate after keeping in mind the size of the venue and social distancing norms, the sources said.

The EC is likely to restrict to two the number of people who can accompany a candidate while filing nomination papers.

The commission may also allow online submissions of documents. It may also not allow more than three persons for door-to-door campaign.

To ensure social distancing, the poll panel has restricted the number of voters per polling station in Bihar to 1,000.

In view of this compulsion, the state is creating approximately 34,000 additional polling stations which is 45 percent more than the usual number, and will increase the total number of polling stations to around 1,06,000.

In a memorandum to the Election Commission last month, some Opposition parties of Bihar had expressed reservation over virtual meets as a medium of campaigning, saying it disturbs a level playing field.

“According to TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India), only a little over half the population has a mobile phone. Only 34 percent has a smartphone,” the memorandum had said.

But the EC is learnt to be open to the idea of virtual campaigning and the proposed guidelines could comprise of details on the issue, the sources said.

The term of the Bihar legislative Assembly comes to an end on 29 November and the polls are likely to he held sometime in October-November.

Several bypolls were recently postponed mainly due to the coronavirus and heavy rains. No fresh schedule has been announced as yet.

The authorities have asked people to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, among other norms, to check the spread of the novel coronavirus which has infected over 1 lakh people in Bihar.

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