The seventh phase of local elections in India's eastern state of West Bengal is underway amid a huge spike in COVID-19 cases, officials said Monday.
The ongoing phase is being held in the shadow of spiraling COVID-19 cases. During the past 24 hours, 15,889 fresh COVID-19 cases and 57 related deaths were reported across the state.
The polling started from 7:00 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. (local time) amid tight security and adequate arrangements, according to officials.
In the ongoing phase, the voting is going on in 34 constituencies from five districts.
"Until 11:30 a.m. (local time) in today's phase, 37.72 percent of polling has been recorded," an official said. "Polling is going on peacefully and no major untoward incident has been reported so far."
Authorities have deployed 653 companies of paramilitary forces for the ongoing phase.
Special facilities including mandatory sanitization of the polling stations, thermal checking of voters at the entry point have been put in place.
Officials said in view of the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic, the option of postal ballot facility has been extended to the electors who are COVID- 19 positive or suspect as certified by the competent authority and are in home or institutional quarantine along with those marked as persons with disabilities and above the age of 80 years.
Officials said people in large numbers were seen standing in queues from morning outside the polling stations.
"All the necessary facilities and security arrangements have been made to ensure free and fair polling during this phase. The Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) is being used along with Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) at all polling stations with a view to enhance the transparency of the election process," an election official said.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged people to exercise their right to vote and follow the COVID-19 protocol.
Elections in the state would be completed in eight phases and the last phase is scheduled on April 29. The counting of votes will be carried out on May 2.
India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wants to unseat the local All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) in West Bengal. Both the parties have been engaged in a tough fight for the electoral battle in the state.
The elections are being held at a time when India is witnessing a record increase in daily COVID-19 cases.
On Monday the country reported the world's biggest-ever daily surge with 352,991 new cases and 2,812 deaths.