Bengal Elections 2021: WBCPCR raises Covid murder finger at EC
The West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights (WBCPCR) has filed a petition in Calcutta High Court seeking a directive to the Election Commission of India to pay compensation to children orphaned by Covid-19 and to the families that lost children to the infection after the announcement of the Assembly polls on February 26.
“The petition has been filed before the court,” advocate Debashish Banerjee, representing the child rights organisation, told The Telegraph on Saturday.
In the petition, the child rights commission, a statutory body set up under the Protection of Child Rights Act, accused the EC of “wilfully and deliberately putting the lives of about 10 crore in the state into the depth of despair” amid the pandemic by conducting a prolonged, eight-phase election.
The WBCPCR said it was restricting itself to the “disastrous effect and consequences that have been caused to the children of the state and how the statistics of pre- and post-poll Covid cases reveal that countless number of children have directly and indirectly been affected during the time the general election had been conducted in the state and still continue to suffer”.
Ananya Chakraborti, the WBCPCR chairperson and petitioner, told this newspaper: “Covid in our state was under control as we did not participate in any of our festivals last year. Some schools had also resumed classes in February this year. Then, the election was announced.… Reports that we have collected from various department have shown that children were the worst affected in the last couple of months and so we decided to file the case against the EC.”
The WBCPCR said in the petition that the large number of central force personnel who came to Bengal on poll duty did not adhere to Covid norms.
“The Election Commission did not direct for mandatory Covid test of such personnel,” the petition said.
The WBCPCR said the personnel moved about “uncontrolled and unrestrained” in Bengal, even travelling to the remotest corners.
The forces had put up in “government and government-aided primary, upper primary and secondary schools, which were requisitioned for such purpose by the Election Commission, remaining nonchalant of the fact that midday meal were handed over from such schools on a regular basis… to guardians of students”, the petition said.
The child rights commission said the EC “did not take any step to completely restrict public gatherings during the election campaigns”.
“About a week before the first phase of the elections, less than 4,000 active Covid-19 cases were reported in the state of West Bengal and by the time the seventh phase of election was held on April 26, 2021, the state reported near about one lakh active cases. During this period, the number of new cases per day increased from less than 400 to about 16,000,” said the petition, which has attached copies of Covid bulletins from dates before, during and after the polls.
The child rights panel is mandated to examine everything that inhibits the enjoyment of child rights and look into matters relating to children in need of special care and protection.
The poll panel is immune from legal scrutiny in the phase between the announcement of the poll schedule and the declaration of results.
“The election code of conduct prevails from the time between the date of announcement of the election to the publication of the election results. During this period, the courts have no jurisdiction to entertain any issue relating to the polls. But after the election, petitions can be entertained,” explained Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya, senior advocate with Calcutta High Court.
The child rights commission said in the petition that some of the affected children were those with special needs, who have “suffered significantly more during the Covid-19 lockdown, giving rise to stress with psycho-social problems of isolation, abandonment and violence”.
The panel said the Election Commission was “solely, entirely and absolutely responsible and accountable for the children, firstly those who have lost their lives… (to) Covid, secondly those who have survived the disease and are thus compelled to live the rest of their lives with post-Covid syndromes, thirdly and most importantly, those who have lost both their parents and guardians and have thus been rendered as orphans, fourthly those who are being compelled to live like orphans since their parents and guardians are admitted in medical facilities”.
“It cannot be denied that today the lives of so many children are at stake, some have become orphans, opening a gate for illegal adoption, many have been adversely affected, some have become victim of child labour/ child trafficking, their education, their future everything are at stake and the Election Commission of India is fully liable for such violation of child rights, which attracts penal provisions,” the petition added.
“…The Election Commission of India must admit to its failure to prevent such massacre and compensate adequately and on the event otherwise, this Hon’ble Court may kindly be pleased to hold the Election Commission of India solely and absolutely accountable and responsible for all those children that the state has lost and for those children who have lost, due to deliberate, wilful, unconcerned, nonchalant, illogical act on the part of the Election Commission of India,” the child rights body said.
The WBCPCR appealed to the court to direct the EC to “compensate each of the families of the deceased children, being responsible and accountable for the children who have lost their lives due to the Covid-19 disease in the state (after the) announcement of the general election on February 26, 2021, the quantum of which may be stipulated by this Hon’ble Court”.
The petitioner sought an order to the EC “to render necessary financial assistance to all children who have lost their parents or guardians due to the Covid-19 disease in the state, and have thus been rendered as orphans”, till such period they are suitably and appropriately rehabilitated.
The WBCPCR said the pandemic’s second wave, “invited by the Election Commission of India”, had left children “once again locked in their houses”.
“Schools are once again indefinitely closed and board exams have been (cancelled or) deferred, thereby severely affecting their career. Children in rural areas cannot even avail online classes due to financial crisis. These unpredictable circumstances are sheer violation of their right to education. Such families, having no other means, are compelled to engage their children in such works which are definitely violation of their rights, attracting provisions of the Prohibition of Child Labour Act, 1986,” it said.