Calcutta High Court: The Division Bench of Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan, CJ and Arijit Banerjee, J., in view of the resurgence of COVID-19 pandemic expressed that

“We are dealing with an extraordinary situation and this calls for extraordinary measures. It is in public interest that the Administration must ensure that all the COVID protocols are strictly adhered to by all concerned including those engaged in election campaigning activities.”

“If the Administration finds that a person, whether engaged in election campaigning or otherwise, if flouting the COVID protocols, such person must have been taken to task immediately.”

Two petitions were filed expressing concern that the people participating in the ongoing election campaigns were not adhering to COVID protocol and that could cause serious spike in COVID-19 cases in the State.

Through newspaper reports and photographs published in newspapers, it has been noted that people engaged in campaigning including in some cases the candidates have not always been wearing masks nor are maintaining prescribed social distancing.

Petitioner’s counsel submitted that Election Commission is well aware that COVID guidelines are being flouted by the people engaged in election campaigning.

Whereas Counsel for the Election Commission submitted that everything necessary was being done to ensure that COVID guidelines were adhered to by the people engaged in election campaigning.

Bench noted that a Press Note was issued by the Election Commission of India on 26-02-2021 containing the COVID guidelines for the conduct of the Legislative Assembly Elections in Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Puducherry.

An undated Circular was also placed before the Court that laid down the measures that have been taken and are to be taken by the polling booths in the wake of the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic.

High Court noted that the Election Commission of India and the Chief Electoral Officer, West Bengal had laid down guidelines and taken measures to ensure public health safety during the election days keeping in view the resurgence of COVID-19.

“…Guidelines need to be implemented in a stricter manner.”

 Court directed that:

  • District Magistrates of all the districts in the State of West Bengal shall ensure that all the guidelines laid down by the Election Commission of India and the Chief Electoral Officer, West Bengal, are strictly implemented in their true letter and spirit.
  • Stringent measures against the persons who fail, neglect or refuse to obey the COVID protocols.
  • Callous, irresponsible and non-chalant attitude or behavior of some of the members of the society cannot be permitted to endanger the lives of the other members of the society.
  • For enforcement of social distancing and to avert deadly disaster, Administration may resort to Section 144 CrPC.

What is mandatory?

  • wearing of masks has to be made mandatory at all gatherings.
  • sanitizers must be made available liberally;
  • safe distancing norms must be followed at all gatherings;
  • the Administration shall do its best to ensure that there are no large congregations, and
  • public awareness through distribution of pamphlet and miking should be resorted to.

Bench requested the member of all political parties contesting Assembly Elections and travelling across the State for campaigning purpose to ensure that at every gathering all persons shall wear masks and maintain the safe distancing norms.

Chief Electoral Officer, West Bengal may issue further guidelines as it may deem necessary.

Matter to be listed on 19-04-2021 when Chief Electoral Officer shall file a report in affidavit form with regard to measures taken for implementation of guidelines holding a safe election. [Nitish Debnath v. Election Commission of India, WPA (P) No. 117 of 2021, decided on 13-04-2021]

Advocates before the Court:

Mr. Srijib Chakraborty, Mr. Arindam Das, Smt. Rumali Sarkar, Ms. Anushka Mahato and Smt. Sonia Parvin Mondal, for the Petitioner (WPA (P) 117 of 2021)

Mr. Manisankar Chattopadhyay | for the Petitioner (WPA (P) 118 of 2021)

Mr. Y. J Dastoor, Ld. ASG Mr. Phiroze Edulji  and Ms. Amrita Pandey | for the Respondent No. 2,3 & 4 (WPA (P) 117 of 2021)  And for the Respondent no.1 (WPA (P) 118 of 2021)

Mr. Sonal Sinha | for the State Election Commission

Mr. Dipayan Choudhury Mr. Suvradal Choudhury Mrs. Priyanka Chwdhury | for the Election Commission Of India & Chief Electoral Officer in WPA (P) 117 of 2021 & Election Commission of India in WPA (P) 118 of 2021

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