New Delhi: Necessary filters have been applied in the CoWin software to ensure that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s photo does not appear in vaccination certificates issued in the election-bound states of Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal as well as the union territory of Puducherry, the health ministry has informed the Election Commission (EC).
This was in response to an order from the EC asking for the photo to be removed in line with the election code of conduct.
In a letter dated 9 March, Rajesh Bhushan, secretary, health ministry, wrote to Deputy Election Commissioner Sudeep Jain: “…technical measures to comply with the directions of ECI have been explored promptly. Thereafter, necessary filters in Co-WIN have been applied for the vaccination centres situated in the four states of Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Union territory of Puducherry, as suggested by the commission.”
Vaccination certificates, which are provisional after the first dose and final after the second dose, carried PM Modi’s photo since 16 January when the national Covid-19 vaccination programme began. Several non-BJP states were upset by the photo but the Trinamool Congress, which is fighting a pitched poll battle with BJP in West Bengal, wrote to the EC on 2 March calling it an “unfair advantage and undue publicity at taxpayer’s cost”.
The EC order citing the model code of conduct came on 5 March asking for the photo to be removed but the implementation was not immediate. Certificates issued after 5 March continued to have the photo, but now that the necessary measures are in place, they will no longer have Modi’s photo, health ministry officials explained.
ThePrint had reported that photos of PM Modi were being used on vaccine certificates, a fact that several opposition parties objected to.
Concerns about poll code violation
The EC order asking for removal of the photo in poll-bound regions came as a result of the Trinamool Congress’s petition.
The party, which is in power in West Bengal, argued that the photo is a clear violation of the provisions of part VII (Party in Power) of the Model Code of Conduct that clearly states: “The party in power whether at the Centre or in the State or States concerned, shall ensure that no cause is given for any complaint that it has used its official position for the purposes of its election campaign and in particular…(4) Issue of advertisement at the cost of public exchequer in the newspapers and other media.”
In their reply to the EC, the health ministry had defended the move saying the certificate with the photo was designed at a time when there were no elections in the country.
The EC said the photo needed to go in order to maintain the sanctity of the model code of conduct and to ensure a level playing field, and also asked for a report from the chief electoral officer in West Bengal.