BHUBANESWAR: The panchayat elections in Odisha will be held in five phases from February 16 to 24 in strict compliance with Covid-19 norms. Announcing the poll schedule, State Election Commissioner (SEC) Aditya Prasad Padhi said that voting will be held on February 16, 18, 20, 22 and 24 from 7 am to 1 pm. The results will be declared on February 26, 27 and 28. Counting will be held at the block offices this time after completion of all phases and not at the booths as earlier.
With the announcement of the polls, the model code of conduct will come into force with immediate effect. Elections will be held to 853 zilla parishads, 6,794 panchayats and 91,913 wards. Over 2.79 crore voters will exercise their franchise. Elections will be held to 1,616 gram panchayats on February 16, 1,514 on February 18, 1,382 on February 20, 1,254 on February 22 and 22,935 on February 24.
Issuing Covid guidelines for the poll, the SEC said that no roadshow, padayatra, cycle, bike or vehicle rally will be allowed during the campaign. Besides, no physical rally of political parties, probable candidates or any other group will be allowed, he said and added that no victory procession after the counting will also be permitted.
The SEC advised political parties and candidates to conduct their campaign as much as possible through digital, virtual and media platforms and mobile-based mode instead of physical electioneering ensuring strict compliance to Covid safety norms. Besides virtual campaigning, door-to-door canvassing will also be allowed. A maximum of five persons including the candidate will be allowed during door-to-door campaigning, he added.
The SEC warned that if a candidate or political party violated Covid-19 guidelines, they are liable for prosecution under suitable provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005. Stating that only fully vaccinated persons with negative RT-PCR or rapid antigen test will be allowed into the counting centres, Padhi said that restrictions would be relaxed or made more stringent taking the prevailing situation into consideration.
Stating that elections will have to be held to fulfill the Constitutional obligations, the SEC said that it cannot be deferred as a new Covid variant can also surface in the future. “As far as possible we aim to have safe elections. It is as important as having free and fair elections,” he added.
Notification for the polls will be released on January 13. The final list of candidates will be out on January 25. Candidates will file their nominations from January 17 and 21, while scrutiny of papers will be done on January 22. The last date for withdrawal of nomination papers is January 25, he added.
Around 200 platoons of police force, similar to the 2017 rural polls, will be deployed for the smooth conduct of the polls. Elections for naib sarpanch will be held on March 11, panchayat samiti chairman on March 12 and zilla parishad chairman on March 13, the SEC said.