Bihar is the first state in India to hold a full-fledged election amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic

The Indian state of Bihar is holding one of the world’s largest elections in terms of electorate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Considering the fact, the Election Commission of India is showcasing the magnitude of the elections and telling the world how it is done by organising a virtual programme.

The ECI has organised an International Virtual Election Visitors Programme (IEVP) 2020 for foreign Election Management Bodies or Organisations which began on Thursday and will continue till November 7.

This is the first election that an Indian state is going through amid the COVID-19 pandemic. So, the aim of the programme is to give a virtual tour of the elections to the international delegates and share India’s experience of holding an election of such a sca;e amid a pandemic.

Delivering the keynote address, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said the preparations for the massive polling exercise in Bihar was "a leap of faith". Pointing out that there was "no dearth of sceptics and cynics" in the run-up to the polls, he thanked everybody involved in the exercise for making it a smooth affair.

Referring to the scale of the exercise in Bihar, which has an electorate of over 72 million, the CEC said it was one of the largest states in India and preparations had to be made accordingly.

Arora also referred to the COVID guidelines issued by the ECI for polling during the ongoing pandemic. This included setting up thousands of extra polling stations since the number of voters per booth had been reduced from 1,500 to 1,000 to ensure better social distancing.

This meant additional polling staff as well as security forces to ensure a smooth voting process, the CEC said. The duration of voting was also increased by an hour, he added.

Delegates from nearly 40 countries are participating in the virtual tour. The countries include, Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malawi, Maldives, Moldova, Mongolia, Mauritius, Nepal, Philippines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Zambia among others.

Apart from that, three international organisations namely International IDEA, International Foundation of Electoral Systems (IFES) and Association of World Election Bodies (A-WEB) are also participating in the event.

On the first day of the programme, the delegates were made aware of the large canvas of the Indian electoral process, the new initiatives taken by ECI on voter facilitation, transparency and accessibility of electoral system and ECI’s response to the changing needs of training and capacity building.

In addition to the CEC, the session was also addressed by Election Commissioners Shri Rajiv Kumar and Shri Sushil Chandra.

The ECI will share the overview of the Commission’s flagship programme for voter awareness, ‘SVEEP (Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation)’ on the second day of the programme while the Chief Electoral Officer of Bihar will share the state’s experiences with the global audience.

On November 7, the day Bihar will vote for the third phase of the Assembly polls, a closer look of the elections will be given to the delegates, said ECI.

“The participants are being invited to a virtual tour of polling stations in Bihar. The visit will be amplified by exclusive footage, a walkthrough of the electoral process, and various arrangements at the polling station for a free, fair, participative and safe election,” the ECI said in a statement.

The ECI has in the past organised such programmes for the foreign delegates. A similar kind of programme was held for Lok Sabha Election of 2019, often termed as the world’s largest democratic exercise.

Similarly, in February and March of 2017, the elections of the few State Assemblies were showcased to the world. A similar programme was held for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

The Bihar Legislative Assembly has 243 seats which are going to polls in three phases this time due to COVID-19 pandemic. While the polling in the previous two phases have already been held on October 28 and November 03 respectively, the phase-3 of the elections is going to be held on November 07.

In the first phase, 71 assembly constituencies in 16 districts went to polls in 31,000 polling stations. A total of 1,066 candidates were in the fray in this phase with an electorate of over 2.14 crore out of which over 55 per cent of voters came out to vote.

The second phase of the elections took place on November 03 with a voter turnout of over 53 per cent. Around 94 constituencies in 17 districts of the poll-bound state went to polls at around 42,000 polling stations. About 2.85 crore voters were eligible to decide the fate of approximately 1,500 candidates in the second phase of the Bihar Assembly Polls 2020.

During his address, the Chief Election Commissioner noted that the turnout in the first two phases was higher than that recorded for the constituencies in the 2015 elections.

The third phase of elections will be held on November 7 in 78 assembly constituencies in 15 districts at around 33,500 polling stations. The results will be announced on November 10.

The polling exercise is being undertaken with all the COVID-19 precautions and arrangements in place. The preventive protocols include wearing of masks, thermal scanning and sanitizers inside the polling booth. The Election Commission had also deployed special teams to collect biomedical waste from the polling stations.