Expedite vaccination programme in poll-bound states: EC to health secy

New Delhi: The Election Commission on Monday assessed the COVID-19 situation in the five poll-bound states with the Union health secretary and asked the government to expedite vaccination programme there.

The commission noted that the percentage of those administered the first dose of coronavirus vaccine was still less in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Manipur, while it was nearing 100 per cent in Uttarakhand and Goa.

The poll panel also asked Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan to expedite administering second dose to those eligible in these five election-bound states, highly-placed sources said.

In a separate meeting with enforcement agencies and central forces, the poll panel asked the top brass of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) to check the influence of drugs in elections.

The Election Commission (EC) pressed upon top officials of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) for maintaining strict vigil on international borders some of the poll-going states share.

Sources aware of the meetings said Health Secretary Bhushan briefed the poll panel for nearly an hour on the Covid situation in the country, especially in poll-bound Uttarakhand, Manipur, Goa, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.

The issue of spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus was also discussed.

The commission assessed the situation based on statistics provided by the health ministry, a functionary said.

The health secretary also briefed the EC about the Covid protocols and home ministry guidelines issued in the recent past to check the spread of the virus.

During the interaction with officials of the NCB, the ITBP, the SSB and the BSF, the poll panel asked the Narcotics Control Bureau to ensure drugs do not influence polls.

The commission "in particular" referred to Punjab and Goa with regard to drug smuggling, the sources said.

The terms of Goa, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Manipur legislative assemblies are ending on different dates in March next year while the Uttar Pradesh assembly's term will end in May.

The EC is expected to announce election dates next month.

On Tuesday, the chief election commissioner (CEC) and fellow election commissioners are scheduled to visit Uttar Pradesh to take stock of the poll preparedness in the state.

An Allahabad High Court bench of Justice Shekhar Yadav had on Thursday last urged the government and the poll panel to consider postponing the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections for a month or two and banning all political rallies amid the fears of an impending third wave of Covid.

When asked about the observation, CEC Sushil Chandra had said in Dehradun on Friday that the EC would be visiting Uttar Pradesh soon and "an appropriate decision as required by the situation will be taken after we review it."

The commission has already visited Punjab, Goa and Uttarakhand as part of its pre-poll stock-taking exercise. PTI

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