Around 72% turn out in Chhattisgarh phase-II polls (Intro Roundup)

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Raipur, Nov 20 (IANS) As many as 71.93 per cent of the electorate cast their votes in the second and final phase of Chhattisgarh Assembly elections on Tuesday, taking the overall turnout in the two phases to 74.17 per cent so far.

Amid allegations of Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) tampering and malfunctioning in several areas, the Election Commission (EC) said over 71.93 per cent turnout was recorded till 6 p.m.

The final figures in the state, where polling in the second phase covered 72 seats spread across 19 districts, are likely to go up as the data was still being collated, the EC said.

In 2013, the total voter turnout was recorded at 77.42 per cent. This time around, the figure stands at 74.17 per cent so far.

The first phase of election in 18 constituencies across eight Maoist-affected districts of the state took place on November 12 and saw a 76.28 per cent voting.

As per EC officials, “very few” EVMs (electronic voting machines) and VVPATs (voter verifiable paper audit trail) had to be replaced during the entire voting process.

Officials said only 0.44 per cent of ballot units, 0.46 per cent of control units and 1.86 per cent of VVPATs, had to be replaced.

The EVM malfunctioning was reported from several booths across Dhamtari, Jashpur, Raipur, Ambikapur, Khallari, Raigarh Patan, Sihawa and Korba, with the Congress accusing the state’s ruling BJP of “electoral malpractices” and “attempting to disrupt” the poll process.

A Congress delegation led by P.L. Punia met the EC officials in the national capital over the alleged “attempts to misuse and tamper with EVMs in Chhattisgarh”.

Punia said the BJP, “wary of losing the polls, was trying to influence the poll process through malpractices”.

The Congress also demanded suspension and arrest of BJP candidate Siddhnath Paikra in Samri seat of Balrampur district for “distributing money” to voters.

“Is malfunctioning of EVMs a mere coincidence or a conspiracy to vitiate the poll process,” asked state Congress chief Bhupesh Baghel in the state capital Raipur.

The EC rejected the allegations of widespread malfunctioning of the voting machines and asserted that faulty EVMs were promptly replaced without any disruption to the voting process.

Regarding the seizure of EVMs from the possession of a poll official named Ved Prakash Mishra in the Korea district, the EC officials said that it was a “reserve EVM” and no vote had been recorded on that machine.

The state, carved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000, for the first time witnessed a three-way contest with the ruling BJP fighting it out with the opposition Congress and the Ajit Jogi-Mayawati-led alliance emerging as a formidable third front.

A total of 1,079 candidates were in the fray, with both the Congress and the BJP contesting all the 72 seats.

The Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is contesting on 25 seats and its ally and former Chief Minister Jogi’s Janta Congress Chhattisgarh (J) in 46 seats.

The Aam Aadmi Party has fielded candidates in 66 constituencies in the state where the BJP is in power since 2003.

An electorate of over 1.5 crore, including over 77 lakh male and over 76 lakh female voters, were eligible to vote.

Among the prominent faces in the fray in the second phase for the Congress were Baghel (Patan), Leader of Opposition in the Assembly T.S. Singh Deo (Ambikapur) and former Union Minister Charandas Mahant (Shakti).

For the BJP, the list included state Ministers Brijmohan Agrawal (Raipur City South), Rajesh Munat (Raipur City West), Amar Agrawal (Bilaspur), and Prem Prakash Pandey (Bhilai Nagar).

For the alliance, Jogi is contesting from Marwahi, his wife Renu Jogi from Kota, and his daughter-in-law Richa Jogi, a BSP nominee, from the Akaltara seat.

Elaborate security arrangements, including deployment of helicopters and drones, were put in place for the balloting which took place at over 19,000 polling stations.

Extra security was put in place in Maoist-affected Gariaband, Dhamtari, Mahasamund, Kabirdham, Jashpur and Balrampur districts.

The results will be declared on December 11.

–IANS

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