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EC to set up ‘core committee’ to identify shortcomings during recently-held assembly polls

Days after completing a controversial round of elections amid the second surge of the pandemic, the Election Commission of India on Thursday announced the setting up of a ‘Core Committee’ to study the “shortcomings” in the recently-conducted polls and to take steps to enforce Covid protocol.

The Core Committee which will “identify learning, experiences, shortcomings” from recent polls, will be headed by secretary general, ECI, Umesh Sinha, and have on board senior officials of the poll panel, some of its special observers besides the chief electoral officers of the five states/UTs which held elections –– West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Kerala and Puducherry.

The Committee will also take inputs from the State Nodal Officers of different divisions like police, expenditure, health authorities as well as from DEOs, SPs & ROs identified by CEOs, polling officials, BLOs about the challenges faced at the grassroots levels, the ECI said in a press statement on Thursday.

There are at least three pandemic-specific areas that the Core Committee will examine.

One, shortcomings /gaps in the ECI regulatory regime and the gaps in implementation and enforcement at the CEO/district official level.

Two, the need for strengthening legal/ regulatory framework enabling the ECI to more “effectively ensure compliance of guidelines/ directions, including the Covid norms”.

Three, measures to ensure discharge of responsibility “like enforcement of Covid protocol by the agencies/ authorities mandated under respective regulatory/ legal regime to do so irrespective of and in addition to the ECI guidelines.

Keeping in mind concerns related to intimidation of staff on election duty –– as was seen in some instances in Bengal –– the committee will also examine the measures required for strengthening the offices of the electoral machinery at the state-level, namely the offices of CEOs, DEOs and ROs besides looking at the shortcomings in the existing framework in providing protection to the electoral machinery from the possibility of reprisal after elections.

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The other areas on its agenda are to identify gaps in the guidelines or at the implementation level in the model code of conduct/ regulatory regime to check non-compliance by political parties or their candidates, measures to strengthen the expenditure management regulations, besides concerns over electoral roll, voter list and delivery of EPIC cards.

Faced with considerable criticism for its alleged inability to enforce Covid safety norms in the recent elections, the ECI has also tasked the Core Committee to closely examine “gaps in communication strategy”.

The committee will also analyse experiences, best practices across states/UT for further reform where necessary besides considering the recommendations of the nine Working Groups (which were set up post Lok Sabha Elections, 2019).

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