The Election Commission has extended the polling time for the first phase of West Bengal Assembly elections by 30 minutes following Covid restrictions.

The first phase of elections is scheduled to be held on 27 March in 30 Assembly constituencies of the state.

The notification for the first phase of polls in the state was issued today where it was stated that voters will be able to exercise their franchise from 7 am to 6.30 pm.

According to an official in EC, due to the Covid-19 situation, polling time has been extended by 30 minutes and will be held from 7 am to 6.30 pm.

The last date of filing nominations is 9 March; scrutiny will be on 10 March and the last date for withdrawal of candidatures is 12 March.

Chief Electoral Officer Ariz Aftab today held a meeting through video conference with all the district election officers to take stock of the poll preparedness. The commission assured to take action on information and stand by them in any need. It has also reminded them of their responsibilities and consequences in case of any lapse of duty.

Meanwhile, EC has directed all the states to bring down all ‘Above the Ground Floor’ booths to ground level and has brought down 1,565 such booths to facilitate the polling process of the PwD (Person with Disability) voters and the senior citizens in Bengal.

“The election commission has noticed that it is a huge hardship for the senior citizens and the physically challenged people to climb stairs for casting their votes. Though the commission makes some arrangements for such voters but that is not enough. So the commission has decided to bring all the booths on the ground floor so that these people can exercise their franchise smoothly,” an official said.

EC has decided to send another 650 companies of central forces before the first phase taking their presence to 945 companies, which is the highest deployment in any election in the state so far. The additional forces are likely to reach the state on 25 March and will be used both for booth management and area domination. Till now, the highest deployment was 842 companies in 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Modi flouting MCC: TMC

Trinamul Congress Rajya Sabha MP and party’s spokesperson Derek O’Brien on Tuesday said election was declared on 26 February and photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi inoculation is still brazenly appearing on Covid- 19 documents.

The TMC is taking this up strongly with the EC as a serious violation of Model Code of Conduct.

Modi went for inoculation during the ongoing second phase. The senior citizens are vaccinated across the country following which digital certificates are being distributed. These digital certificates bear Modi’s photograph.

O’Brien said as five states and one Union Territory go to the polls on 27 March and filing of nominations has started from today, PM’s photo on digital certification is gross violation of MCC. Political sources said, “Both the NCP chief and senior Congress leaders also spoke against the use of PM’s photo on digital certification.”

Advance payments, revise rates: Bus operators to SEC

The private and minibus operators in the city have demanded an advance payment for poll duty from the state Election Commission.

Members of five transport unions have submitted a letter to the Chief Electoral Officer Ariz Aftab in West Bengal yesterday. According to the bus operators, the payment of hiring charges for the Lok Sabha polls in 2019 are partially or fully due till date. According to one of the union leaders of private bus association, while 50 per cent of the hiring charges for each north and south Kolkata are still due, North 24 Parganas has not received any payment for poll duty in 2019. Similarly, South 24 Parganas is yet to receive 20 per cent while other districts are awaiting the remaining 10 per cent of the total due payment, said the secretary of a private and minibus union.

“We do not want a similar situation of dues and therefore, we are demanding the amount in advance to avoid any hassles in times when we are already burdened by huge losses following the outbreak of the pandemic and soaring fuel prices,” said a union leader.

Apart from payment for the upcoming poll duty in advance, the transport operators are also demanding revision in hiring charges. The operators have demanded Rs 2,500 for private buses instead of the existing Rs 1,910 and Rs 2,000 for minibuses, for the upcoming elections. The truck operators have made similar demands and demanded Rs 2,500 for six-wheeler trucks and Rs 4,000 for 10-wheeler trucks against the existing Rs 1,475 for each.

Also, Rs 500 has been asked as food allowance for three persons against the existing Rs 170.

Transport operators demanded that the authorities pay the dues for vehicles requisitioned for the Lok Sabha elections in 2019 and pay in advance for the forthcoming general elections threatening that the vehicles will not be rented out for poll duty if their demands are not met.