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Bengal civic polls deferred over coronavirus

KOLKATA: The elections to the West Bengal civic bodies, including the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC), have been postponed for the time being amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, an official said on Monday.

The decision was taken at an all-party meeting called to decide the dates for the polls, State Election Commissioner Sourav Das said.

“We have decided to defer the civic polls for the time being because of the coronavirus outbreak,” Das said.

“We will again hold a meeting to take a call on the matter after 15 days.”

The ruling TMC had appealed to the SEC on Sunday to defer the polls, a demand that also had the backing of Opposition parties.

Elections to 107 municipal bodies of the state and the Kolkata Municipal Corporation are being viewed as a litmus test for the TMC and the BJP, a year ahead of the crucial Assembly polls.

Sources said that the state government was keen on holding the elections between April 12 and 26.

“We had told the SEC that neither elections nor campaign can take place in this situation. It will be very risky,” TMC leader Tapas Ray said.

“So, the best thing to do is to call off the elections for the time being.”

Elections will come and go, but politics must take a backseat when society is faced with such a threat, Ray said.

State BJP vice president Jaiprakash Majumdar said the party supports the decision to postpone the elections.

“We don’t have any problem with elections being postponed. But all the parties should be consulted again before the dates of the election are announced,” Majumdar said.

Announcing a slew of preventive measures against the spread of the deadly COVID-19, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee extended the closure of all educational institutions till April 15 and asked cinema halls to remain shut till March 31.

Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar urged the people to resolve for a violence-free poll.

“Let’s resolve to freely, fearlessly and fairly vote. Vote is as much right as duty,” Dhankhar tweeted.

“It is national obligation. Those who do otherwise commit great disservice to nation and Democracy. They are accountable for its failures.”

“I call upon all to ensure voting to keep nation first,” he added.

Later, the Raj Bhavan announced all programmes in its premises had been cancelled till March-end in accordance with the Centre’s advisory on the new coronavirus.