Odisha bypolls: 70.45 pc voting in two assembly seats

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(Eds: With details) Bhubaneswar, Nov 3 (PTI) Over 70 per cent of total 4.67 lakh voters exercised their franchise in by-elections to two assembly seats in Odisha on Tuesday amidst tight security and strict adherence to the COVID-19 protocol, an election official said.

Voting remained by and large peaceful, state Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), S K Lohani said here.

Balasore seat recorded 71 per cent polling, while 69.9 per cent of voters in Tirtol constituency in Jagatsinghpur district cast their ballots during voting held from 7 am to 6 pm, Lohani said.

The CEO, however, made it clear that the figures available now were 'tentative' and the exact poll percentage would be available on Wednesday as many voters who were in queue at 6 pm were allowed to cast their votes.

Voting was still continuing in 120 booths after 6 pm in Tirtol assembly seat, while polling was in progress in 30 polling stations of Balasore, he said.

'Polling remained by and large peaceful and smooth without any law and order problem. No violence was reported from anywhere during the by-elections,' Lohani said.

Two polling personnel were removed from a booth in Balasore following complaints about attempts to influence the voters, while police was looking into media reports about alleged distribution of money by a woman, also in Balasore, he said.

Errors found in EVMs and VVPAT machines during mock polling at some places were corrected, he said.

Undeterred by the COVID-19 pandemic, people turned out in large numbers to exercise their franchise in both the constituencies where all precautions were in place as per the guidelines laid down by the Election Commission, he said.

Though residents of some villages in Balasore and Tirtol had threatened to boycott the bypolls alleging lack of development in their areas, it was found that voting was normal, Lohani said.

Around 71.2 per cent voter turnout was recorded in 2019 assembly elections in Balasore, while it was 74.09 per cent in Tirtol seat.

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

The BJD fielded Bijay Shankar Das, the son of Bishnu Charan Das, in the Tirtol seat, while the Congress and the BJP nominated Himansu Bhushan Mallick and Rajkishore Behera respectively 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 were allowed in a booth to ensure social distancing, Lohani said.

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

As part of measures to check the spread of COVID-19, all voters were provided with hand gloves. Their hands were sanitised while entering and leaving the polling booths and only healthy polling officers were deployed after a thorough screening.

Polling personnel were provided with face shields, masks, gloves and PPE kits, he said.

Around 3,500 polling personnel, 800 ASHA workers, and as many volunteers were engaged for poll duty to ensure proper sanitation and health screening of voters.

The voters with symptoms of COVID-19 and high body temperature were given a token to cast their votes at the end, 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 were identified as critical. Security personnel were deployed in critical booths, while webcasting, micro- observers, videography and CCTV coverage were arranged.

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

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