Odisha bypolls: 55.04 pc voting in two assembly seats till 3 pm

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(Eds: Updates turnout) Bhubaneswar, Nov 3 (PTI) Around 55.04 per cent of total 4.67 lakh voters exercised their franchise till 3 pm in by-elections to two assembly seats in Odisha on Tuesday amidst tight security and strict adherence to the COVID-19 protocol, election officials said.

Balasore seat reported 54.85 per cent polling, while 55.23 per cent of voters in Titrol constituency in Jagatsinghpur district have cast their ballots, they said.

Voting, which commenced at 7 am, is in progress in a peaceful manner. Errors found in VVPAT machines during mock polling at some places were corrected, a poll official said.

Polling will end at 6 pm, he said.

There was a marginal drop in turnout around noon, but voting is likely to pick up again, state Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) S K Lohani said.

Police is looking into media reports about the distribution of money by a woman in Balasore, he said.

The by-elections were necessitated following the deaths of the BJP's Balasore MLA Madan Mohan Dutta and the BJD's Titrol legislator Bishnu Charan Das.

The BJP has fielded Manas Kumar Dutta, the son of Madan Mohan Dutta, in the Balasore seat, while Swarup Das is the ruling BJD candidate and the Congress and put up Mamata Kundu as its nominee for the seat.

The BJD has fielded Bijay Shankar Das, the son of Bishnu Charan Das, in the Tirtol seat, while the Congress has nominated Himansu Bhushan Mallick and Rajkishore Behera is the BJP candidate for the constituency.

In view of the COVID-19 pandemic and the guidelines laid down by the Election Commission, a maximum of 1,000 voters are allowed in a booth to ensure social distancing, Lohani said.

Accordingly, the number of booths has been increased from 265 to 373 in Tirtol and from 198 to 346 in Balasore, he said.

The Tirtol constituency has 2,37,282 eligible voters, while the electorate in Balasore is 2,30,297.

As many as 86 polling stations in Balasore and 155 in Tirtol have been identified as critical. Security personnel have been deployed in critical booths, while webcasting, micro-observers, videography and CCTV coverage have been arranged.

To ensure smooth and peaceful polling, six companies of the central armed police force (CAPF), 90 platoons of policemen and 251 officers have been deployed, a senior police officer said.

As part of measures to check the spread of COVID-19, all voters are being provided with hand gloves as they are required to sign the register and touch the buttons of the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). Their hands are being sanitised while entering and leaving the polling booths, a poll official said.

Only healthy polling officers have been deployed after a thorough screening for conducting voting and other arrangements. Polling personnel have been provided with face shields, masks, gloves and PPE kits, he said, adding that the booths are being sanitised frequently.

Around 3,500 polling personnel, 800 ASHA workers, and as many volunteers have been engaged for poll duty to ensure proper sanitation and health screening of voters before their entry into polling stations.

The voters with high body temperature are being given a token to cast their votes at the end.

Special arrangements have been made for transporting persons with disabilities to the booths and back home.

Wheelchairs and volunteers have also been mobilised for the purpose.

In the run-up to the by-elections, both Balasore and Tirtol constituencies witnessed high voltage campaigns till Sunday evening with stalwarts of the ruling BJD and opposition Congress and BJP seeking votes for their candidates.

The counting of votes is scheduled to be held on November 10. PTI SKN ACD ACD