Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora and Election Commissioners Sushil Chandra and Rajiv Kumar are addressing the media.
Mr. Arora begins with tribute to frontline workers including poll officials. He recalls how the Election Commission managed to conduct elections amid pandemic with Rajya Sabha elections.
Bihar Elections was a watershed moment. It was a litmus test, he says. “Many of our Collectors had COVID. They rejoined duty to ensure the election is conducted smoothly, ” he says.
He applaud the CEO of Bihar. An IG succumbed to COVID, he says.
Even as we were working for Bihar elections, a set of officials were working on the election of these five States, Mr. Arora says. We start the process months before, very quietly, he says.
Mr. Arora says Deputy Election Commissioners visited the poll-bound States from December. The Election Commissioners too visited these States in January and February, he says.
I must complement the voters who participated in the voting process, despite a lot of difficulties, he says.
The term of Assam ends on May 31. Number of seats 126.
The term of Tamil Nadu ends on May 8. Number of seats 234.
The term of Bengal ends on May 31. Number of seats 294.
The term of Kerala ends on June 1. Number of seats 140.
The term of Puducherry ends on June 8. Number of seats 8.
18.68 crore electors will cast vote at 2.7 lakh polling stations in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry, CEC Sunil Arora says.
The roll out of vaccination programme is boosting the confidence of people in the polling process. Polling officials are also declared as frontline workers. All the polling officials will be vaccinated, Arora says.
Postal ballot facility has been extended as an option from senior citizens aged above 80 years, differently-abled, and essential workers, Mr. Arora says.
A separate SOP is there for COVID-19 patients, suspects and quarantinees.
The polling time have also been increased. Several process have been made online. Offline facility also continues.
The number of person accompanying a candidate while submitting nomination form is restricted to two.
Security money can be paid via online.
Person-to-person campaign restricted to five people.
Security arrangements, Advance teams of Central Armed Police Forces have already been deployed to all five states/UT, not just to West Bengal, clarifies CEC Sunil Arora.
All critical, vulnerable polling stations identified and an adequate number of CAPFs will be deployed, he said.
We have issued a circular on February 8 that there will be a committee comprising of CEO, police and CAPF officials to come up with security plans.
At 50% booths should have webcasting of voting. Some districts have done 100% earlier, he says.
Observers: The Election Commission will also appoint General Observer for each State. There will also be an IPS Observer for every poll-bound State. The will be an expenditure observer for each State.
Two special police observers appointed for West Bengal.
Since Tamil Nadu is expenditure sensitive, two expenditure observers have been alloted from the State, Arora says recalling that elections in Vellore and R.K. Nagar had to be rescinded earlier.
All polling stations will be equipped with sanitisers, masks, soap and water.
This in addition to usual facilities such as drinking water, ramp etc.
The model code of conduct comes into force from now, Mr. Arora says.
It is mandatory for candidates to publicise their criminal records in newspapers, he says.
Mr. Arora says a fresh guideline for social media will be issued in line with the latest guidelines issued by the Union government.
This is probably my last press conference as I am retiring on April 13, says Sunil Arora. He thanks the media faternity. “You may not believe it, but we think you are our ally,” he says.