By Durba Ghosh Guwahati, Mar 27 (PTI) The fear of COVID looms large and Assam's voters stepped out of their homes with caution to exercise their franchise and they seemed satisfied with the facilities to check the spread of the virus in polling stations in the first of the three-phased election in 47 of the 126 assembly constituencies.
Besides, voters were happy with arrangements to take care of children while their mothers voted, and ferry people with disabilities to polling stations.
For 65-year old Amiya Gogoi of the Duliajan assembly constituency, not casting her vote due to the pandemic was not an option as she has sincerely voted in every election since she came to her marital home as a bride 45-years ago.
'My husband and I have never stayed away from any election but this time we had doubts with Corona cases again increasing and both of us are co-morbid,' she said.
Her two sons, who are also voters, went early to the polling station and returned reassured that strict COVID protocols are in place and their parents can exercise their rights without worry, she said.
Bank official Dilip Phukan of the Dibrugarh constituency was also initially hesitant to go to the polling station.
He ventured out to exercise his franchise after his friends in the district administration assured him that COVID-19 safety measures such as wearing masks, marked places for voters to stand in a queue, availability of sanitiser and thermal scanner and disposable gloves for touching the EVMs are in place.
Anima Tanti, a worker of Gopal Tea Estate in Golaghat district, with a three-month-old child was not willing to go to vote but on seeing her neighbours dressed in their holiday best, she too was tempted and wore a colourful saree to join them, taking her little daughter along.
'When I reached the polling station, I was surprised as a 'baideu' (elder sister), on seeing me with a baby, took me aside to a beautifully decorated room with toys and other child care facilities. Another baideu there took care of my baby while I finished voting,' a happy Tanti said.
There are 479 polling stations where only women polling personnel have been deployed with 128 of them turned into model polling stations and decorated aesthetically with Assamese handicrafts, including the 'japi' (traditional head- gears), bamboo crafted gates, designs made with 'gamosas' (traditional towels) and 'rangolis' at the entrance.
First-time voter Akash Saikia came early in the morning with his 82-year-old grandmother in a Tinsukia school to cast their votes with fewer people around and was surprised to find that they were the first in the queue.
'We were first given the sanitiser, then tested with a thermal scanner and then 'Aita' (grandmother) was welcomed with a 'gamosa'. She was also presented with a neem sapling which we planted in the school ground,' a visibly excited Saikia, who is 22-year-old, said.
In traditional Assamese culture, respected guests are welcomed with the offering of 'gamosas'.
Mrinmoyee Devi was not very keen to take her 35-year old son, a Person with Disability, to the polling station though he was eager to vote.
A relative assured her that she has no reason to worry as the administration will make the necessary arrangements. An e-rickshaw was sent to take him to the polling station and bring him back home.
'I am so glad that he could vote and am thankful to the administration for making it possible. They also honoured him with a 'gamosa' and he is so happy,' she said.
Prashanta Boruah, an elderly voter of Tezpur, said that the Election Commission and the administration have taken measures to ensure implementation of the mandated COVID protocols and people are sincerely abiding by them while exercising their franchise.
'It is, therefore, disheartening to note that politicians and their supporters throw all caution to the wind during campaigning. They are seen without masks and observing no social distancing,' he said.
The administration should be strict in ensuring that all precautions are taken during political rallies, meetings and roadshows, Boruah added.
Wearing of masks by voters has been made mandatory or those coming without one will be provided with a mask at the polling station, Assam's Chief Electoral Officer Nitin Khade said.
Sanitiser, thermal scanner, soap and handwashing facilities are a part of the Assured Minimum Facilities in each polling stations across Assam, Chief Electoral Officer Nitin Khade said.
A distance of six feet between two voters while waiting to cast their votes must be maintained while each voter will be provided with disposable gloves for touching the EVMs, he said. PTI DG NN NN