New Delhi: Chief Election Commissioner Sh Sushil Chandra today reviewed Counting Arrangements with senior officers of the Commission and the CEOs of five States/UTs in a virtual meeting. Sh Chandra directed that all laid down instructions of the Commission must be adhered to. He also directed that all counting halls must be fully COVID guidelines compliant. CEC complemented the CEOs for successful completion of polling in challenging situations of pandemic.
2. On 2.5.2021, counting in five poll gone States/UT viz. Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal and in the bye poll held in PCs/ACs will start at 8.00AM. Election Commission has made elaborate arrangements for smooth and safe counting in 822 ACs in five States/UT and for counting for the byepolls held in 4 PCs and 13ACs across 13 States.
3. Earlier on 28/4/2021, the Commission issued detailed instructions in view of pandemic, in addition to existing guidelines/instructions related to counting, which included, inter alia:
DEO shall be the Nodal Officer at each Counting Centre to ensure adherence to the following the COVID-19 related norms at Counting Centres, with assistance of Nodal Health Officer.
Compliance Certificate in respect of Counting Centre that all arrangement has been made as per extant COVID guidelines shall be obtained from the concerned Health Authorities.
No candidates/agents will be allowed inside the counting hall without undergoing RT-PCR/RAT test or without having 2 doses of vaccination against Covid-19 and will have to produce Negative RT-PCR report or RAT report or Vaccination reports within 48 hours of start of counting. The DEO shall make arrangement of RT-PCR/RAT Test to Candidates/Counting agents before the day of Counting. List of counting agents shall be made available by the contesting candidates to the RO concerned by 1700 hours on the day three days prior to the date fixed for counting of votes (para 15.12.2 of RO handbook).
4. The Commission has already banned any victory procession vide its instructions dated 27/4/2021. It was also directed that banning victory procession would include any kind of procession by or congregation of supporters of victorious candidates anywhere in constituency(ies) beyond limits on number prescribed by concerned State/UT. The Commission has also directed the Chief Secretaries of all these States/UT to ensure that all directions of ECI and extant instructions of NDMA/SDMA concerning gatherings etc. in the wake of counting shall be complied with.
5. ECI directions to ensure RTPCR/RAT tests for counting agents etc. are being complied with. As per the information received from the Chief Electoral Officers, contesting candidates have given details of approx.1,50,000 counting agents (including substitutes) in five States/UT by the stipulated time. More than 90% of them have already been facilitated RTPCR/RAT tests. Remaining are being provided the test facility today by the DEOs. The Commission has also directed to accept test reports from any authorized lab. This is also being followed in bye poll PCs/ACs.
6. The media authorized by the Commission to cover the counting process is also being facilitated RTPCR/RAT tests etc. Approximately 12000 media persons have been given the authority letters to cover the process from counting centres.
7. The Counting will take place at 2364 counting halls as compared to 1002 halls in 2016 elections, this amounts to more than 200% increase in counting halls. This is in view of Commission’s directions on COVID safety measures/guidelines inside the hall and related measures which led to (1) substantial increase in polling booths (2) jump in postal ballot.
8. The Commission’s measures to extend Postal Ballot facilities to electors in the categories of senior citizen(above 80 years), PwD, COVID affected and employed in essential services witnessed an increase of 400% in Postal Ballots (from 2.97 lakh in 2016 to 13.16 lakh in 2021) in the 5 States/UT.
9. The Commission has designated 822 ROs and more than 7000 AROs for the purposes of counting in these 5 States/UT. Approximately 95000 counting officials including micro observers will perform the task of counting.
10. The Commission has deputed approx. 1100 Counting Observers to watch the process of counting. Additional Reserve Counting Observers have also been deputed and placed to perform the duties in case of any pandemic related replacement.