Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra on Thursday said all political parties in Uttar Pradesh want the Assembly elections to be held according to schedule while ensuring Covid protocol.
Chandra said some parties have also expressed concern over hate speeches, paid news and "biased" officials. On a three-day visit to Lucknow to review preparations for the elections slated to be held before mid-March, Chandra held a series of meetings with representatives of political parties as well as state and district-level officials.
The Allahabad High Court had on December 23 suggested the Union government defer the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections due to a possible Omicron-led third Covid wave. "I have been told that 86 per cent of people in the state have got the first dose and 49 per cent the second shot of Covid vaccine. We have been assured that in 15 to 20 days, all eligible people will get their first dose. We have asked for increasing vaccination," he told reporters on the last day of his visit.
He said because of the pandemic, the number of polling booths in the state will be increased by 11,000 to maintain proper social distancing. "Earlier, a booth was made for 1,500 voters. But keeping in mind the Covid pandemic, the number of voters in each booth has been reduced to 1,250. Because of this, the number of polling booths has increased by 11,000. So, a total of 1,74,351 polling booths will be set up," he said.
Chandra said besides the Naxal-infested areas, polling time will also be increased by an hour across the state. Polling officials will be vaccinated and those eligible will be given a booster dose, he said. Thermal scanners, sanitisers and masks will be provided at all polling booths and special care will be on maintaining social distancing and proper sanitisation, he said.
Every polling booth will function as per the COVID-19 protocol, he said. For the first time, senior citizens above 80 years of age, people with disabilities and those affected by COVID-19 will be provided with the alternative facility of postal voting sitting at home.
If they want to come to the polling centre to cast their vote, they are welcome or else the commission will reach their doorstep, he said. The list of all such voters will be given to political parties and a videography team will go to their homes.
During this, care will be taken that the secrecy of voting maintained, he said. The CEC said some parties expressed concern over election rallies being held without following the coronavirus protocol and asked for a control on the number of rallies.
Apart from this, some parties complained about the "biased" attitude of some in the administration and police, he said. Representatives of political parties have also expressed concern over hate speeches and paid news, he said, stressing that the Commission is committed to make the voting process smooth, simple and temptation free.
Chandra said there will be at least 800 women-managed polling stations. A mobile application named "CVIGIL" has been launched to prevent any malpractice in voting, he said. He said officials have been asked to ensure that people who could create disturbances do not enter from neighbouring states or through international borders and round the clock monitoring of all border posts be done with the help of CCTV cameras.
He said on January 5, the electoral roll will be published. Voters will be able to file their claims and objections till the last day of filing of nominations. Till now, the number of voters in the state is more than 15 crore.
Chandra said so far 52.80 lakh new voters have been included, which is a record in itself. This includes 28.86 lakh women voters, he said. Of the new voters, around 19.89 lakh are in the age group of 18 to 19, which is three times more than last time, the chief election commissioner said.
For maintaining transparency, webcasting will be done at not less than 1 lakh polling places. VVPAT machines will be installed at all polling booths along with electronic voting machines and as per directions of the Supreme Court, VVPAT slips of at least five polling stations in each Assembly constituency will be matched with the EVM count.
Chandra said to increase polling percentage, places with low percentage have been identified and awareness related activities have also been increased there. There will be 4,030 model polling booths, 10 in each constituency, he added.
To a question on whether there will be any protocol during the campaigning or if the commission is thinking about banning or streamlining big political rallies, he said once the elections are announced, this point will definitely be considered.
Detailed guidelines will be issued taking all necessary points into consideration, he said. To another question on the High Court suggestion on shifting the election dates in view of the Covid situation, the CEC said all points, including the appeal of the court will also be taken note of.
With inputs from PTI.