Bengal polls first phase sees nearly 81 per cent turnout

PTI4_4_2016_000237B Women showing their voter cards during the 1st phase of West Bengal Assembly Elections in West Medinipur | PTI

Braving the sweltering heat and oppressive humidity, nearly 81 per cent of the 40 lakh voters cast their ballot in three Maoist-affected districts of West Bengal on Monday in the first phase of the assembly polls covering 18 constituencies.

The constituencies that went to the hustings included 13 in areas identified as affected by the Left-Wing Extremism (LWE).

An Election Commission official said in Delhi that the polling was "by and large peaceful".

"There was no incident of violence, any injury or death to any person, which is a creditable achievement," the official said.

Till 6.30 p.m., the overall polling per centage was 80.92.

While 81.66 per cent voters cast their ballot in West Midnapore district, the figure was 80.59 per cent in Bankura, and 80.18 in Purulia, state Chief Electoral Officer Sunil Gupta said in Kolkata.

The scheduled time of polling was reduced by two hours in six insurgency-hit constituencies of West Midnapore, four in Purulia and three in Bankura districts. The elections got over at 4 p.m. in these constituencies.

In five other constituencies of Purulia, polling ended at 6 p.m.

However, the polling figure may go up as lot of people were in queue in many of the areas long past the closing time, said Gupta.

He said there were no arrests, or formal complaints about booth capturing.

"We did not receive any serious complaints from the candidates, voters or parties," said the CEO.

He said a presiding officer was removed after there were allegations that a polling agent was moving to the voter compartment in polling station No.15 of Purulia district's Balarampur constituency.

Another polling official was removed for dereliction of duty after votes were found not being recorded in the Electronic Voting Machines in booth No.30 of Ranibandh constituency in Bankura district.

For the first phase of the elections, there were 40,09,171 registered voters eligible to record their democratic choices in 4,945 polling stations. Of these, 1,962 were classified as critical where special security measures were taken.

Gupta said there were no reports of poll boycott in any of the booths.

Prominent among the 133 candidates—11 of them women—were Paschimanchal Development Affairs Minister Sukumar Hansda of the Trinamool Congress from Jhargram and the CPI-M's Pulin Bihari Baske from Gopiballavpur.

The Congress and the Left Front accused Trinamool activists of attempting to influence and intimidate voters in many booths across the three districts, and also complained that the central forces were not active in many of the areas.

"Our expectations were not completely fulfilled. We don't know yet the extent of terrorisation of voters in the interior areas," said state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.

Communist Party of India-Marxist politburo member Md. Salim said polling was "more or less peaceful", though a section of police personnel played a "partisan role".

The Trinamool, Left Front-Congress combine and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were in the fray for all the 18 constituencies.

Among the Left Front partners, the CPI-M has put up candidates in 11 seats, and the Communist Party of India and the All India Forward Bloc in one seat each. The Congress was in the race in five constituencies.

Multi-layered security was put in place around the constituencies, with at least 10 personnel of a central paramilitary force deployed to secure each polling station in the 13 LWE-affected constituencies.

Besides two helicopters carrying out sorties, an air ambulance and quick response teams were on standby.

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