Kolkata: Braving the sweltering heat, around 83 percent of the 40 lakh electorate turned out to vote on Monday in the first phase of the assembly polls in 18 constituencies in the Maoist-affected western districts of West Bengal.
The scheduled poll timing in 13 of the 18 constituencies identified as Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-affected areas was reduced by two hours and closed at 4 p.m. without any report of violence.
Polling booths opened amid tight security at 7 a.m. in the 18 constituencies — nine in Purulia district, three in Bankura and six in West Midnapore.
“Voting has been peaceful so far. As per the last report (5 p.m.) 82.58 percent polling was recorded in all the 18 constituencies. While the scheduled time for closing of polling in 13 constituencies was 4 p.m., voters are still queued up in some of the booths,” said an Election Commission official.
The official said 83.24 percent polling was reported in West Midnapore, 84.20 percent in Bankura and 81.55 percent in Purulia.
In five other constituencies — Purulia, Manbazar, Kashipur, Para and Raghunathpur (all in Purulia district) — voting will continue up to 6 p.m.
The turnout is thus expected to rise, said the official, adding over 300 complaints were received during the day.
“There has been no report of violence while most of the complaints received were about malfunctioning of EVMs, which were redressed at the earliest,” he added.
For the first phase of the elections, there are 40,09,171 registered voters and 133 candidates.
While a presiding officer in a booth in Purulia was changed following an allegation of trying to influence voters, a section of voters in Piyalsole village under Manbazar constituency in Purulia boycotted voting.
Complaining of lack of development in the area, the villagers said the decision to boycott the polls was taken in advance.
“From hospital to school to even the market, everything is in Manbazar. The road here is virtually non-existent which makes commuting to Manbazar difficult,” said one of the villagers, adding that most of them have to walk several kilometres to fetch drinking water.
Among major candidates in the fray are Minister Sukumar Hansda of the Trinamool Congress from Jhargram and the CPI-M’s Pulin Bihari Baske contesting 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, a charge denied by the ruling party.
The Trinamool, the Congress-Left Front combine and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are in the fray for the 18 constituencies.
A multi-layered security ring has been put in place around the constituencies.
At least 10 personnel of a central paramilitary force have been deployed to secure each polling station in the 13 LWE-affected constituencies.
Besides helicopters carrying out sorties, an air ambulance and quick response teams are on standby.
There are 4,945 polling stations, out of which 1,962 have been classified as critical where special security measures have been taken.
Voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) has been made available in 562 polling stations.
Under VVPAT, a printer-like apparatus is linked to the EVM. When a vote is cast, a receipt is generated showing the serial number, name and symbol of the candidate. It confirms the vote and the voter can verify the details.