Kolkata, April 25 (IANS) Braving sweltering heat, over 52 percent of the electorate exercised their franchise in the first six hours on Monday in 49 constituencies of Howrah and North 24 Parganas bordering Kolkata during the fourth phase of the West Bengal assembly elections.
A total of 52.22 percent turnout was recorded till 1 p.m., with 52.12 percent in North 24 Parganas and 52.43 percent in Howrah, said an Election Commission official. The polling began at 7 a.m. and will end at 6 p.m.
While the poll panel said the polls were peaceful, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress alleged rigging in some booths.
BJP’s Roopa Ganguly, contesting from Howrah North, alleged “rampant” booth-capturing and bogus voting and faced angry protests from alleged Trinamool Congress activists.
“Since morning, I have been getting complaints about intimidation of our voters and assault on our polling agents who have been driven out of the polling booths. Rampant booth-capturing and bogus voting is being indulged in by the Trinamool,” said Roopa, who was heckled outside a booth allegedly by Trinamool activists.
Her Trinamool rival, retired international cricketer Laxmi Ratan Shukla, denied the charge.
Accusing her of influencing voters and disrupting the poll process, Shukla said a complaint has been filed against her with EC after the actress “forcibly entered the booth and clicked pictures with her mobile camera”.
The poll panel has sought a report from Howrah district officials on the actress turned politician’s movements.
Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Tanmoy Bhattacharya (North Dum Dum) sustained injuries in stone-pelting on his car by alleged Trinamool activists.
Following a complaint by Bhattacharya, three people were arrested, said a police officer.
Left Front-Congress alliance backed Independent candidate Pratima Dutta, wife of murdered green activist Tapan Dutta, alleged her polling agents were driven out or not allowed to enter the booths in her constituency Domjur in Howrah.
A bomb attack was reported from a booth in Belgharia’s Jatin Das Nagar.
North 24 Parganas, a part of which falls under the world’s largest mangrove forests — the Sundarbans — has 33 constituencies. The remaining 16 are in Howrah.
Over 1.08 crore voters across 12,481 polling stations, including 27 auxiliary booths, are eligible to decide the fate of 345 candidates, including 40 women.
The Election Commission has used 14,353 electronic voting machines (EVM) and 680 Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT).
A total of 672 companies of central forces and 23,000 state police personnel have been deployed to ensure free and fair polls in the two districts in view of past political clashes and poll-related disturbances.
In the Sundarbans region, equipped with ham radio operations to solar lights, officials have gone the extra mile to ensure the electorate gets a chance to exercise their voting rights.
In the 2011 polls, the Trinamool — then an ally of the Congress — bagged 43 of the 49 seats. The Congress got two, the Communist Party of India-Marxist three and the Communist Party of India one.
The Trinamool and the BJP are in the fray in all the constituencies. The Left and the Congress are contesting 46 seats, leaving one seat to Janata Dal-United, besides backing two Independents.
Khardah in North 24 Parganas district is again witnessing a battle between two economists – finance, industries and IT Minister Amit Mitra of the Trinamool and Asim Dasgupta of the CPI-M.