The Election Commission of India headquarters in Delhi.

The EC on January 8, announced the pole schedule for UP, Uttarakhand, Goa, Punjab and Manipur assembly election 2022. While announcing the polls, the commission announced ban on public rallies, roadshows and similar physical campaigning events till January 15.

On January 8, the EC had also listed out 16-point guidelines for campaigning as it banned ‘nukkad sabhas’ on public roads and roundabouts, limited the number of persons allowed for door-to-door campaign to five, including the candidate, and prohibited victory processions after the counting of votes.

The Election Commission on Saturday January 20, extended the ban on Physical rallies and road shows till January 31 amid rise in covid cases in the country. This is the second time the commission has extended the ban after first one announced on January15.

However, the EC allowed a small window for in person campaigning in indoor spaces. Parties and candidates can hold physical meetings with maximum 500 persons in open space from January 28, for first phase and from February 1 for second phase.

“In view of rapid spike in coronavirus cases, the Election Commission today extended the ban on physical rallies and road shows till January 31. The decision was taken by the poll body following a meeting with the Union health secretary and the chief secretaries of the five poll-bound states.

However, relaxation for physical public meetings of political parties or contesting candidates for Phase 1 has been allowed from January 28 and for phase 2 from February 1.

The poll body also increased the earlier limit of 5 persons for door-to-door campaign to 10 persons. Video vans for publicity are permitted at designated open spaces with COVID restrictions.

So while physical rallies, padayatras, roadshows and car or bike rallies will not be allowed in constituencies going to poll between phase 3 and phase 7,in-person public meetings with maximum500 persons or up to 50% of the ground capacity of existing SDMA limit, whichever is less, may be conducted between January28 and February 8 in 58 assembly constituencies of UP going to polls in the first phase between February1 and 12 for 55 assembly seats in UP for second phase and the whole of Goa and Uttarakhand. Roadshows and padayatras will remain barred till January 31 even in constituencies going to polls in the first two phases.

Roadshows, padayatras and bike and car rallies, however, remain banned till January 31 across all constituencies irrespective of phases. Election commission sources said the Covid situation is expected turn around and vaccination coverage likely to reach satisfactory level by January 31, when the panel will review campaign restrictions next.

If the Covid situation eases, physical meeting with similar cap may eventually be allowed across all phases.

The panel, which took stock of the Covid situation in the five poll-bound states in virtual meetings with the Union health secretary and the respective state chief secretaries and chief electoral officers, also allowed video vans for publicity in open spaces.

Justifying the relaxation for physical rallies, a senior official said that since candidates would be finalised by January 27, the last date for withdrawal of nominations, it was felt that they should be given a fair opportunity to directly reach out to voters.

While allowing physical meetings, the EC went by two factors—vaccination coverage in poll-bound states, which has lately shown marked improvement, as well as hospitalisation rates, which remain in check. As per data placed before the EC, first dose vaccination coverage now stands at 100% in Goa, 99% in Uttarakhand, 97% in UP, 81% in Punjab and 58% in Manipur; while the second dose coverage is at 98% in Goa, 85% in Uttarakhand, 64% in UP, 52% in Punjab and 44% in Manipur.

Hospitalisation rate is 1.4% in UP, 1.7% in Uttarakhand, 1.7% in Punjab, 3.4% in Goa and 8.8% in Manipur. “This shows that most people are recovering without much pressure on medical facilities,’ said EC official.