Bihar polls: Officials work overtime to dispatch Covid-19 kits to lakhs of polling booths

Bihar’s assembly polls amid Covid-19 pandemic is different in many ways. State officials are on their toes for not only transporting EVMs and coordinating deployment of election staff but much more.

For the last one week, health department officials are working overtime to complete the gargantuan task of packaging and dispatch of a whopping 13 lakh Covid-19 kits containing face covers, santisers and other safety material. These kits will be distributed to around 11.59 lakh polling personnel, including 5.20 lakh security personnel, at 1.06 lakh polling stations across 243 assembly constituencies.

This comes as part of the Election Commission guidelines to ensure safety of election staff in the three-phase polls.

Each Covid kit contains 100 ML of santiser, face shield, hand gloves (2 pairs), three-ply mask (six pieces) with additional items. In addition, polling booths would get 500 ML santiser (six pieces), one IVR thermometer, batteries, among other items for use.

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The dispatch of kits for 16 districts going to polls in the first phase on October 28 will be completed by October 17. “We are racing against time because of the tight schedule to package the cartons and load them in trucks for dispatch within the deadline,” said an official working at Gyan Bhawan in Patna.

Besides, nearly 6.56 crore hand gloves for each voter – 90 percent of the total voters of state – are also being dispatched across 38 districts. The EC, this time, will provide one pair of gloves each to voters coming to the booths for using the EVM to cast their franchise as a precautionary measure against Covid-19.

The voters would also be screened by infrared thermometers before being allowed inside the booths.

“We are sending around 13 lakh Covid kits by provisioning reserve of 20 percent for the election staff so that there is no shortage of any protective items like sanitisers, face masks and gloves. We are also sending hand gloves for voters to each of 1.06 lakh booths by making provision for nearly 90 percent of total voters,” said a senior official of the Bihar Medical Services And Infrastructure Corporation Limited (BMSICL). The Corporation has been assigned the task of packaging the Covid-19 kits for use during the elections.

Conducting the polls, amid the pandemic, is a big challenge for the EC, state election department and other concerned departments, including the health department, given the surge in number of Covid-19 cases in the state.

The distribution of Covid-19 kits has increased the election costs with added expenditure in packaging these kits purchased through tendering process by the BMSICL. The estimated expenditure of the same is pegged around Rs 200 crore, officials said.

“The state election department has already been allotted additional Rs 250 crore in the first supplementary budget, of which Rs 225 crore has been provisioned for footing the bill of protective gears, essentially Covid kits, and other costs owing to increase in polling stations,” said a finance officer.

The supplementary budget was passed during the last monsoon session in August. In the state budget, a provision of Rs 627 crore was made in this fiscal year. In total, the state election department has a budget allotment of Rs 877 crore for this fiscal year given the increase in costs for implementing the safety guidelines laid down by the EC to check the spread of Covid-19 during the polling process.

EC officials said the election cost this time is likely to be around Rs 625 crore – a jump of almost 131 percent from 2015 assembly polls when an expenditure of Rs 270 crore was made. This one is slated to be one of the most expensive elections in recent times.

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Incidentally, packaging centres like Gyan Bhawan auditorium in Patna, Muzaffarpur and Purnea and BMSICL warehouses are witnessing work on a war footing with few thousand workers, including women, drawn from various agencies engaged day and night to ensure to dispatch the kits as per the deadline.

The Purnea and Muzaffarpur units have their deadlines to dispatch the kits through trucks for the second and third phase of polls by the one week, officials said.

“The entire exercise of packaging and dispatching has been a challenging task, especially due to the humongous amount of kits and materials and logistics involved in transportation. The workforce, including women staff, are working overtime and it is worth appreciating,” said Pratay Amrit, principal secretary, health.

“It is a big job and we are working to meet all deadlines,” said managing director of BMSICL, Pradeep Kumar Jha.

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