Kolkata | Jagran Politics Desk: Amid the alarming spike in coronavirus cases across the country, the election commission (EC) on Friday banned all kinds of rallies and public meetings from 7 pm to 10 am and announced that the silence period has been extended from 48 hours to 72 hours in each of the remaining three phases in poll-bound West Bengal.

Issuing its new guidelines, the poll body also said that it would be the duty of candidates and political parties to ensure that appropriate COVID-19 behaviour is followed, adding that stern action would be taken against flouting the safety protocols.

It also said that the organisers of the public meetings and rallies would need to provide face masks and sanitisers to those attending the event "at their cost which shall be added and counted within limits of prescribed expenditure".

"Star campaigners, political leaders, candidates and aspiring policymakers shall demonstrate by their personal example and nudge all supporters at beginning of campaigning to wear mask, use sanitisers and maintain social distance and put in place such crowd control measures as necessary," the EC said, as reported by news agency ANI.

However, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) slammed the poll body over the new guidelines and reiterated their request to club the remaining phases of the elections in West Bengal.

"Today the umpire said 7 pm to 10 am no campaigning, this is very suitable to those living in Lutyens bungalows in Delhi. They have breakfast in Delhi, fly down to Kolkata, do some meetings in heat and they will go back. This will expose people to COVID-19," TMC's Derek O'Brien was quoted as saying by ANI.

The first four phases of assembly elections in West Bengal were held on March 27, April 1, April 6 and April 10 respectively. The fifth phase will be conducted on April 17 while the sixth, seventh and eighth phases will be held on April 22, April 26 and April 29 respectively. The counting of votes, meanwhile, will take place on May 2.

Posted By: Aalok Sensharma