Kolkata/Berhampore: Undeterred by the exponential rise in daily cases of the coronavirus disease across the country and West Bengal, the Election Commission of India (EC) ruled out a possibility of clubbing the remaining phases of the ongoing Assembly elections in the state due to lack of availability of another 1,500 companies of the Central paramilitary forces.
"There is no such plan of clubbing" the three poll phases, the Election Commission said after new Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra took stock of the ground reality from various poll observers deputed in the state and chief electoral officer West Bengal Ariz Aftab in a video conference.
At the meeting, opinions were also sought from them about the deployment and distribution of the Central forces in case of clubbing the last three poll phases after the state recorded daily new Covid-19 cases at 6,769 till Thursday with 22 fresh deaths in the last 24 hours, sources said.
This time, election to the West Bengal Assembly is being held in eight phases. Polling for four phases have ended and the fifth phase will be held on Saturday. Polling for the sixth, seventh and the eighth phase will be held on April 22, April 26 and April 29, respectively.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday evening also appealed to the EC to club the "remaining phases" of the polls into one, within few hours of the central poll panel's decision to go ahead with the existing poll schedule even after the deadly virus claimed a Congress candidate's life and infected two others, including one from the Trinamul Congress in the state. She also stressing that her party had opposed the prolonged eight-phase poll schedule.
The TMC supremo tweeted, "Amid an ongoing pandemic, we firmly opposed @ECISVEEP's decision to conduct WB polls in 8 phases. Now, in view of the huge surge in #COVID19 cases, I urge the ECI to consider holding the remaining phases in ONE go. This will protect the people from further exposure to #COVID19."
Ms Banerjee's plea to the EC's move came a day after Mr Aftab called an all-party meeting, to be attended by one representative each from 10 political parties, at 2 pm on Friday to discuss the strict compliance of Covid-19 guidelines in light of the fresh wave.
All political parties in West Bengal have been asked to send only one representative each for the meeting. The meeting will discuss matters related to campaigning for the remaining phases of the election.
Among the deceased, was a Congress candidate at Shamshergunj in Murshidabad: Rejaul Haque Biswas (51), alias Montu, who was infected by Covid-19 two days ago. He was brought from Basumati Hospital in Jangipur of the district on Wednesday night to a private hospital off EM Bypass in Kolkata. He died there at around 5 am on Thursday becoming the first poll candidate to fall prey to the virus.
State Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said, "I spoke to him two days ago. I was scheduled to address a rally in his support in Shamshergunj. But Covid-19 snatched his life so early." Besides Sanjkuta Morcha candidate from the RSP at Jangipur: Pradip Nandy tested covid positive. Admitted at the Berhampore Covid Hospital, his condition is stated to be critical. In the TMC, Goalpokhar candidate Golam Rabbani has also been infected by Covid-19.
Mr Chowdhury added, "I request everybody, including the EC, with folded hands to check this pandemic during the polls. The Congress will abide by any decision for the sake of life."