Lucknow, May 2 (PTI) Counting of votes began Sunday for lakhs of panchayat seats in Uttar Pradesh, a process expected to take two days across 829 centres.
There were scuffles involving the supporters of candidates in three districts and social distancing to fight the spread of coronavirus went for a toss at several places, reports said.
Over three lakh candidates were declared elected unopposed by the State Election Commission (SEC), shortly before the counting began.
Eight polling agents were turned away from the counting centre in Kannauj’s Chhibramau tehsil after they tested positive for coronavirus in Rapid Antigen Tests.
Hearing concerns over the counting being held amid a coronavirus surge, the Supreme Court had on Saturday made it clear that candidates and their agents will be allowed to enter the counting centres only if they were COVID-free.
The SEC said they should have tested negative for COVID-19 not earlier than 48 hours before the start of the process, or taken both doses of the vaccine.
Scuffles between the counting staff and candidates’ supporters took place in Pilibhit and Firozabad districts, leading to the use of force by police.
In Etah, police detained five people after supporters of rival candidates clashed. Reports of violation of social distancing norms poured in from centres in several districts, including Basti, Kannauj, Muzaffarnagar, Jaunpur and Maharajganj.
In Ballia, Shailesh Singh (45), a candidate for the post of pradhan of Rampur village panchayat under Maniyar block, died on Sunday morning.
Family sources said Singh's condition deteriorated suddenly and he was taken to a doctor who declared him dead.
The four-phase contest was for over 7.32 lakh seats in gram panchayat wards, 58,176 in gram panchayats, 75,852 in kshetra panchayats and 3,050 in zila panchayats. Polling took place on April 15, 19, 26 and 29. The turnout in the last phase was 75 per cent.
Altogether, 3,19,317 candidates have been elected unopposed, state poll body said.
These include 178 aspirants to the gram panchayat pradhan’s post, seven candidates for zila panchayats, 2,005 for kshetra panchayats and over 3.17 lakh for gram panchayats.
The polling was through paper ballots, and the counting could stretch over two days, a SEC official told PTI.
The Supreme Court on Saturday had refused to stay the counting process. Justices A M Khanwilkar and Hrishikesh Roy passed the order after taking note of assurances that COVID-19 protocols will be followed at all counting centres.
The court directed that there will be a strict curfew in the entire state till Tuesday morning and no victory rallies will be permitted.
The bench directed the poll panel to preserve the CCTV footage of the counting centres till the Allahabad High Court concludes its hearings on the related petitions before it.
Counting generally takes place in eight-hour shifts, SEC officials had said earlier.
The SEC said at every counting centre, a health desk will be set up with a doctor on duty. PTI NAV AQS ASH ASH