PATNA: The Election Commission on Thursday warned of "stern action" on "proven reports" about misuse of social media to promote communal and caste violence during the Bihar assembly polls.
Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora asserted the poll panel was committed to ensuring free, fair, peaceful, transparent and safe polling in the elections, the first being held amid the raging COVID-19 pandemic.
Arora said the Commission expected various social media platforms to cooperate in holding the elections.
"If we get proven reports from any sources, be it media, individual or anybody, that social media is playing mischief and its reports may promote communal and caste violence, then we will not hesitate to take stern action under IPC, IT Act and other relevant laws, Arora told a press conference as a team from the Commission wrapped up its 3-day visit to the poll-bound state.
Polling for the state's 243 seats will be held on October 28, November 3 and 7. Votes will be counted on November 10.
Arora said political parties also raised the issue of possible "misuse" of social media during their interactions with the EC team.
The panel, during its stay in Bihar since September 29, held talks with political parties and other stakeholders, including government officials.
Those who met the EC team included Chief Secretary Deepak Kumar, Director General of Police S K Singhal and Health departments Principal Secretary Pratyaya Amrit.
Besides Arora, election commissioners Sushil Chandra and Rjiv Kumar, deputy election commissioners, and Bihar Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) H R Srinivasa were present at the press meet.
The CEC assured sufficient security personnel will be deployed to ensure fair and peaceful franchise but did not disclose their numbers. "We are getting more forces than we ever got," he said.
The Commission has increased the number of polling stations from 65,333 in 2015 to 1,06,526 in the 2020 assembly polls, he said.
Arora said, in their meetings with the poll panel, political parties raised several issues, including maintaining social distancing during the campaign and voting.
He said voters aged over 80 years will be allowed to exercise their franchise through postal ballots. They will, however, be permitted to cast their votes at polling stations if they so desired.
The election panel chief said COVID positive patients will be allowed to cast their votes during the last hour of polling. He said electioneering will be held both in physical and virtual form.
The CEC said he will visit the state again to see if the Commission's instructions were being implemented in "true sense".
The constituencies for such visit will be chosen randomly. Responding to a question about how could the Commission guarantee free and fair poll in a state where caretaker chief secretary and some other officers were occupying top positions for the past 10 years, Arora quipped, "even parents can't take guarantee of their children in today's world".
He said it was for a state government to decide how long a particular officer could stay in a particular department or position.
Without saying it in so many words, Arora maintained officials could occupy a position at the wish of a government if there was no case of "proven malafide" against them.
We will not name any officials but we had removed Chief Secretary and DGP in the last lok sabha elections, he added.
When asked about possible low voter turnout due to the COVID fear, he said a lot of effort needed to be made to ensure normal voting. He said the Election Commission did not have powers to postpone a state assembly poll.
"If we had postponed the election, people would have started saying it was a favour (to a particular party or grouping)," he said.
"ECIs decision to conduct elections in Bihar is not a leap in the dark, but a leap of faith, he asserted.
Almost all opposition parties in the state had sought deferment of elections in view of he surging cases of COVID- 19.(THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS)