Reds torch poll vehicle ahead of phase II polls
Phulbani/Bhubaneswar: Hours before commencement of second phase polls in state, Maoists gunned down a woman polling officer and torched a poll vehicle on way to their booths contrary to safety claims of administration for a free and fair election.
Both the incidents occurred in Maoist-affected Kandhamal district where the red rebels had asked people to boycott elections.
The ultras gunned down a woman polling officer when she was taking a team of poll personnel to a booth on the eve of second phase elections beginning Thursday.
Sector officer Sanjukta Digal was shot dead when she got down from the vehicle to check a suspicious object lying on the road while passing through a jungle near Balandapada village under Gochhapada police station limits, DGP BK Sharma said. Other four polling personnel present in the vehicle were unhurt.
In the other incident, the rebels set ablaze a vehicle carrying polling personnel to a booth in a village in remote Phiringia police station area.
Kandhamal district collector-cum-returning officer D Brunda said initial reports indicated that armed Maoists in uniform asked the poll officials to alight from the vehicle before they set it afire.
Police said all officials are safe but it was not clear what happened to poll materials like the EVMs.
Police suspect that the KKBN (Kalahandi-Kandhamal-Boudh-Nayagarh) division of the CPI (Maoist) was involved in both the incidents.
The Maoists had recently put up posters and banners in the district advising voters to boycott the elections. In view of the Maoist presence in Kandhanal district, the Election Commission has set the polling time from 7 am to 4 pm in the seven Assembly segments in the constituency.
Meanwhile, briefing mediapersons about the preparedness made for the elections, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Odisha, Surendra Kumar said 76,93,123 electorate are there in the five Lok Sabha and 35 Assembly segments, of which 39,45,025 are male voters, 37,47,493 are women and 605 belong to the third gender.
Polling will be held in Aska, Kandhamal, Sundargarh, Bargarh and Bolangir Lok Sabha constituencies and 35 assembly segments under them. The polling staff have reached the booths, he said. Over 60,000 polling personnel have been deployed to conduct the second phase elections while 8,700 vehicles will transport them, Kumar stated.
Of the 9,117 booths, 3,701 have been identified as critical, and arrangements have been made for deployment of Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) in 748 booths, he said.
Similarly, steps have been taken for webcasting in 883 booths, providing CCTVs in 623 booths and engaging 892 micro-observers, Kumar said. Videography will be conducted in 331 places and photography in 24 polling stations.
As many as 17,882 volunteers have been engaged to assist 1,08,458 differently abled voters, the CEO said. On the basis of feedback received from the first phase of polls held April 11, arrangements have been made for providing tents and chairs in the booths, in order to give respite to the voters from scorching heat, he said.
Repolling in two booths
Repolling will also be held Thursday in two polling stations located in Malkangiri (ST) and Berhampur Assembly constituencies, following reports of glitches in the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) during the first phase of polling, Kumar added.
As some areas in Kandhamal, Bolangir and Bargarh are Maoist-affected, security has been heightened to ensure smooth conduct of polls in those pockets, a senior police officer said. “Steps were taken for intensifying combing operations, patrolling and flag march in these areas,” he said.
Prominent among the contestants in the second phase are Chief Minister and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) president Naveen Patnaik, contesting from his home turf Hinjili in Ganjam district and Bijepur in Bargarh district.
Among others, Union Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram (Sundargarh), BJD’s Rajya Sabha MPs Prasanna Acharya (Bargarh) and Achyut Samant (Kandhamal) and former MP Kharabela Swin (Kandhamal) are in the fray in the Lok Sabha polls. In addition, leader of Opposition Narasingha Mishra is in the fray from the Bolangir Assembly seat, while BJP legislature party leader KV Singhdeo is contesting from the Patnagarh Assembly seat.