Amid the second wave of COVID19, the vote counting exercise for the recently concluded panchayat elections in Uttar Pradesh is underway today. Large crowds have gathered at the counting centres, paying no need to physical distancing.
A counting centre at Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh. All Pics: By arrangement
While the media glare is on the vote counting for assembly elections held recently in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry, counting is also underway in Uttar Pradesh (UP), India’s most populous state, where the panchayat elections just wound up, across four phases.
Since this morning, Gaon Connection‘s community journalists in Uttar Pradesh have been sharing visuals of the various counting centres where large crowds have gathered to keep track of the results. Despite the UP State Election Commission assuring that COVID19 protocols would be followed, enforcing physical distancing guidelines seems far from satisfactory.
In a raging pandemic, with UP recording 30,180 fresh coronavirus cases and 304 deaths in the past 24 hours, this over-crowding at the counting centres may lead to another surge.
Controversy and conflict have dogged the Uttar Pradesh panchayat elections. The four-phased panchayat elections in the state commenced on April 15 and concluded on April 29. The counting of votes and declaration of results will take place today May 2.
On April 27, the Allahabad High Court issued a show cause notice to the UP State Election Commission demanding an explanation as to why COVID 19 protocols were not adhered to. According to the high court, there were several allegations that neither the police nor the election commission did anything to prevent the spread of the contagion.
The court directed the state election commission to immediately take all such measures in the forthcoming phases of panchayat elections (fourth phase today) to ensure COVID guidelines of physical distancing and face masking are compiled with. “Else action is liable to be taken against the officials involved in the election process,” reads its April 27 order.
Meanwhile, on April 25, the state government had blamed the Allahabad High Court for forcing it to hold the panchayat elections. In a press statement, the state government said: “Contrary to the misinformation campaign against the Yogi government, the decision to conduct the elections of the Gram Panchayats stemmed from the directions of the Allahabad High Court to the Government of the State of Uttar Pradesh.”
Two days back, on April 30, over two million members of the various workers’ associations, including government school teachers, declared boycotting the May 2 vote-counting exercise, as they alleged that at least 706 shikshak/karmchari (teachers/workers) had died in the state after contracting the coronavirus infection during training and panchayat poll duties.
As pew news reports, last night the association called off its decision to boycott the counting after assurance by the state government that COVID protocols would be followed.
Also, yesterday, May 1, in a special sitting, the Supreme Court of India (SC) allowed the vote counting exercise for the Uttar Pradesh panchayat elections. The SC took into note the assurance given by the State Election Commission that sufficient measures will be taken to ensure that the COVID protocol is followed at counting centres.
However, the visuals coming from the counting centres present a different, and worrisome, picture.
With inputs from Sumit Yadav, Unnao; Virendra Singh, Barabanki; Brijendra Dubey, Mirzapur; and Mohit Shukla, Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh.