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New Delhi: Expressing anguish that COVID-related safety protocols were being flouted in West Bengal campaigning, the Election Commission on Thursday placed an immediate ban on road shows, ‘pad yatras’ and vehicle rallies in the state and said public meetings having more than 500 people would not be allowed.

Using its constitutional powers, the commission issued an order placing fresh restrictions on physical campaigning in the state where two more phases of elections are due on April 26 and 29.

The orders came into force from 7 pm on Thursday.

“The commission has noted with anguish that many political parties/candidates are still not adhering to the prescribed safety norms during the public gatherings…,” the order read.

” … the commission invoking its powers under Article 324 further orders that with effect from 7 pm of April 22, in the state of West Bengal no roadshow/padyatra shall be permissible; No cycle/bike/vehicle rally shall be permissible; No public meeting beyond the limit of 500 persons at a place subject to availability of adequate space with social distancing, adhering to COVID-19 safety norms, shall be permissible,” the order said.

It made clear that permission for road shows, cycle, bike or vehicle rallies, if granted already, stands withdrawn.

The order came on a day when the state registered highest single-day spike of 11,948 COVID-19 cases.

In a letter addressed to heads of all recognised parties on Wednesday, the commission had referred to the directions of the Calcutta High Court issued on Tuesday which said that it would be open for the EC and the state chief electoral officer to take requisite steps and also to ensure successful implementation of COVID protocols by requiring strict compliance of prescribed guidelines and orders by all political parties, candidates and all other concerned with the poll process.

The EC had recently prohibited campaign between 7 pm and 10 am to discourage public gatherings.

It has also extended the silence period to 72 hours from 48 hours before end of poll in each phase of poll in Phase 6, Phase 7 and Phase 8 in West Bengal.

In view of extension of silence period, there would in any case be no campaigning from 6.30 pm on April 26 (date of poll of 7th phase) to April 29 (date of poll of 8th phase).

The BJP had on Monday decided to stop holding large rallies, gatherings and meetings for the West Bengal assembly elections, capping attendance at 500 due to the rising COVID-19 cases.

The Trinamool Congress had urged EC to club the last three phases of polls to check the spread of the virus.

The EC had on Wednesday told the TMC that its suggestion was not feasible and had cited the election law to turn down tne request.

PM Modi To Address Virtual Rallies In West Bengal on Friday

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will virtually address the people of West Bengal on April 23 after cancelling his visit for reviewing the prevailing Covid situation, a BJP leader said.

In a statement, West Bengal BJP chief Dilip Ghosh said: “The Prime Minister has had to cancel his visit to Bengal on April 23, in which he was scheduled to address four rallies across four districts and 56 Assembly constituencies.”

“BJP Bengal unit and the voters of West Bengal were looking forward to his visit but we realise the gravity of the situation and the rationale for him not being able to make it in person.”

“We have since requested the Prime Minister to address the entire constituency at one time through a virtual address and we are pleased to confirm that he has agreed to do so.”

According to Ghosh, the Prime Minister will be addressing voters, particularly of Malda, Murshidabad, Birbhum and Kolkata, through a virtual medium at 5 p.m. on April 23.

“On behalf of the voters of West Bengal, we extend our gratitude to the Honourable Prime Minister for acceding to our request and look forward to his inspiring address,” Ghosh said.

Earlier, announcing cancellation his visit to poll battleground West Bengal, Modi tweeted: “Tomorrow, will be chairing high-level meetings to review the prevailing COVID-19 situation. Due to that, I would not be going to West Bengal.”

As per the plan, Modi was supposed to address four rallies in West Bengal.

Mamata Banerjee Cancels All Poll Meetings Amid Soaring COVID-19 Cases

Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday cancelled all pre-scheduled poll meetings after the Election Commission banned roadshows and vehicle rallies for the remaining phases of the ongoing assembly polls in the state, and said she will address people virtually.

“In the wake of upsurge in #COVID-19 cases across the country and the ECI order dated 22nd April, 2021, I am cancelling all my pre-scheduled meetings and we will reach out to the people virtually,” the Trinamool Congress supremo said on Twitter.

She said the schedule for her virtual meetings would be shared shortly.

Noting that COVID safety norms were being flouted in West Bengal during campaigning, the Election Commission banned roadshows and vehicle rallies in the state with immediate effect and said no public meeting having more than 500 people would be allowed.

The remaining two phases of polling will be held on April 26 and April 29.

Votes will be counted on May 2.

(With IANS Inputs)

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