ECI Extends Ban On Public Election Rallies Till February 11: Economic Survey Tabled And Budget-2022 Tomorrow!

We must commend the constitutionally autonomous body of the Election Commission of India (ECI) for sticking to its strong resolve to make the upcoming 7-phase state assembly elections COVID-safe for all by extending the pandemic ban on rallies/roadshows till February 11 following a review for the second time today which is quite effectively done as the first phase of the elections begins on 10th February. While announcing the dates for assembly elections in five states on 8th January the ECI banned all public rallies, roadshows and bike or cycle marches till 15th of that month subject to a review on 15th January and in that review the ECI stuck to its ban, only allowing physical rallies subject to a maximum of 500 persons for the political party candidates to contest in the first phase from January 28, a date when all formalities of nominations for that phase are completed. Similarly, for the second phase the relaxed rallies to commence from 31st January with the same restrictions.


Amid the current chock-a-block politico-financial scenario with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the first major virtual rally for Uttar Pradesh today, campaigning by all political parties hotting up for the first phase of polling, Parliament session starting from today and the Budget-2022 to be presented tomorrow, the ECI took the bold step of extending the ban and its commitment. Of course, with the apparent easing up of Omicron infection scare in most parts of the country the Commission has given some relaxations: open-air physical rallies to be allowed subject to a maximum of 1000 people instead of the earlier 500 limit; a maximum of 500 people to be allowed for indoor rallies; and for door-to-door campaigns the limit of supporters increased to 20 from 5 earlier.


However, it is not clear who will have to accomplish the near-impossible task of counting the people assembled in open-air rallies or roadshows and how to prevent hordes of supporters coming to attend. This syndrome is valid for all political parties, their supporters and their rallies or roadshows. The police cannot possibly set up barricades during the most democratic festival of the country. Further, allowing 500 people for indoor meetings is fraught with more serious danger of the spread of infections in closed environs. The earlier 50% capacity crowd seems to be the most desirable option still. But in totality, the consistent efforts of the ECI are laudable.


Meanwhile, the Finance Minister of India, Nirmala Sitharaman has today tabled the Economic Survey-2021-22 presenting a positive picture for the economy with the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to grow at 8 to 8.5% for the coming fiscal year. The Survey reveals that this rate is compatible with reference to the latest forecasts by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank of real GDP growth at 8.7% and 7.5% for the next two fiscals. Besides, as per the IMF’s latest World Economic Outlook (WEO) growth projections, released on 25th January, 2022, India’s real GDP is projected to grow at around 9 per cent in both 2021-22 and 2022-23 and at 7.1 per cent in 2023-24. This projects India as the fastest growing major economy in the world in all these three years. All such projections are based on the assumptions that there will no more debilitating effects from the pandemic and that the monsoon is going to be normal. Agriculture, the least affected sector by the pandemic, is to continue growing steadily; the industrial sector is expected to witness a strong rebound from a contraction of 7% in 2020-21 to a high positive of 11.8% in 2021-22; and private sector investment is to pick up strongly in the next fiscal.


The finance minister Sitharaman is going to present the Budget-2022 tomorrow, February 1, in the Parliament amid demands by various financial and industry experts that include strengthening the infrastructure investment, imposition of no unnecessary taxes, efforts to reduce the fiscal deficit, to boost consumption demand in the lower strata of the society, to increase the allocation for the healthcare sector and having a clear divestment or disinvestment policy. There are also expectations that the exemption limit or the standard deduction limit for income tax could be increased and many more sops anticipated for an economy devastated by the three waves of the pandemic. For all that we’ll have to wait till tomorrow.


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