LUCKNOW: Elections to Uttar Pradesh, that is already seeing a high-voltage wrangling between sitting BJP and Samajwadi Party for last few weeks in its run-up is likely to begin on schedule with no parties willing to seek any postponement at the moment, Election Commission of India (ECI) said on Friday.
ECI panel was on a visit to Lucknow where it held a press conference at Yojana Bhawan to indicate its early assessment even as no final decision has been taken yet.
“Representatives of almost all political parties have met us and conveyed to us that UP polls should be held on time by following all Covid-19 protocol,” Chief election commissioner (CEC) Sushil Chandra told reporters here.
His remarks come at a time when UP has left behind all states to administer 20 crore doses in the state, leaving behind Maharastra ( 13.3 crore), West Bengal (10.42 crore), Madhya Pradesh (10.2 crore) and Bihar (9.93 crore) while India has crossed 140 crore doses.
Chandra also said that time frame for polling would remain the same as 8-6 pm, adding that “voting time will be extended by an hour and 11,000 more booths have been dded to ensure distancing”.
CEC insisted that all officials on poll duty will be fully vaccinated and added that it is necessary to speed up Covid-19 vaccination in poll-bound states.
He though disclosed come up with suggestions on how vulnerable groups in the population can be protected from the threat of infection and that parties raised violation of Covid norms in rallies and also sought for curbs to be put in place.
Almost every party including Samajwadi Party (SP), BJP, RLD, Congress has held a mega rally during last few weeks with attendance running into lakhs, including foot marches, processions, and marathons at Jhansi, Aligarh, Meerut and Mathura in western UP to Lucknow and Kanpur in Awadh region to Sultanpur, Ghazipur, Ballia and Varanasi in Purvanchal region.
The poll panel team visited the state after Allahabad high court had urged ECI to consider deferring the Uttar Pradesh polls amid a spike in Covid cases driven by the new Omicron strain.
HC Judge Justice Shekhar Shekhar Kumar Yadav, while praising PM Narendra Modi for his government’s initiatives towards free vaccinations, had made these observations.
Though ECI’s decision will be taken after consulting all stakeholders including all political parties, health ministry and health department of UP’s inputs, the CEC clarified that the commission would reach out to people above 80 years of age, including those with disabilities and Covid affected, who who are unable to come to the polling booth, to help facilitate them in excising their franchise.
Chandra also said that the number of voters between age group of 18 to 19 have increased this time.
“61 per cent voter turnout was recorded in 2017 polls. In 2019 Lok Sabha elections, voter turnout in UP was 59 per cent. Its a matter of worry why voting percentage is less in the state where there is high political awareness among people,” he pointed out.
He also stressed that VVPATs will be installed at all voting booths.
“Live webcasting facilities will be available at around 1 lakh voting booths to ensure transparency in election process,” Chandra said, adding that even the number of voters at voting booths have been reduced to 1,200 from 1,500.
He also sought to boost women participation in polls, saying 800 polling booths for women will be set up. “We will conduct an inclusive election in which no voter will be left behind,” he added.