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Assam polls to be held keeping in mind Bihu festival, CBSE exam

The five-year term of the 126-member Assam Assembly would expire on May 31

Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said on Wednesday that the Assembly elections in Assam would be held taking into consideration the Bihu festival in mid April and the CBSE board examinations.

Arora, who was accompanied by Election Commissioners Sushil Chandra and Rajiv Kumar and other senior officials, told the media that the elections would be held following the social distancing norms in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The CEC said that the election schedule would be prepared keeping in mind the examinations to be conducted by the Central Board Secondary Education for students of Classes X and XII in May-June.

The full bench of the poll panel had arrived in Guwahati on Monday and held a series of meetings with the political parties, police nodal officers, election related regulatory agencies, district deputy commissioners and police officers, state home secretary and other senior Central and state officials to review the poll preparedness in the state.

The poll panel also held meetings with Assam Chief Secretary Jishnu Baruah, Director General of Police Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta, and Chief Electoral Officer Nitin Khade.

According to the officials, the EC team left Guwahati for Kolkata on Wednesday and during its three-day stay there, it would hold a similar exercise about the West Bengal Assembly polls.

Arora said that political parties have requested the EC to keep in mind the dates for the Bihu festival while finalising the poll schedule.

"Representatives of political parties said that such a schedule would encourage more voter turnout and would help avoid the period of monsoon too. Keeping in view the Covid norms of ensuring social distancing, political parties desired that the number of polling booths be increased and the list of such auxiliary polling booths be made available in time so that parties can organise their booth committees and logistics in time," he said.

People in Assam celebrate two important festivals — Bhogali Bihu, a harvest festival also called Magh Bihu in January, and the Rongali Bihu, a spring festival that marks the onset of Assamese New Year in April.

The CEC said that in view of the Covid norms, the maximum number of electors at a polling station has been reduced from 1,500 to 1,000.

Accordingly, for Assam, the number of polling stations would go up by about 5,000 and are likely to be more than 33,000 for the forthcoming elections. This increase in the number of polling stations in turn would have other logistics and manpower implications.

He said that the ECI has always recognised that after the voters, the political parties are the most important stakeholders in the election process. Poll panel officials have been holding repeated meetings with local officials and taking stock of the ground situations.

"The Commission has zero tolerance about misuse of money power or government machinery. In this regard, a specific meeting was held with the enforcement agencies to crack the whip wherever required. As per well-established norms, the Commission deploys experienced officers as observers from outside the state in every election after due scrutiny.

"If required, special observers would also be deployed in the sensitive and critical constituencies and districts to monitor and ensure that elections are conducted in a totally free and fair manner. During the door-to-door campaign by the political parties, only five persons would be allowed in a group or team," the CEC said.

Ahead of the declaration of Assembly polls in five states, the full bench of ECI headed by the CEC is likely to visit the states to review the preparations for the elections.

Assembly elections are expected to take place in Assan, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry in April-May.

A six-member team of the Election Commission led by Director General Dharmendra Sharma had held several meetings with senior Assam government officials last week to review the preparedness for the Assembly polls.

The five-year term of the 126-member Assam Assembly would expire on May 31.