Over 78 percent turnout in Bengal polls fourth phase (Roundup)

Kolkata, April 25 (IANS) Amid sweltering heat, sporadic violence and allegations of electoral malpractice, over 78 percent of the 1.08 crore voters on Monday exercised their right to franchise across 49 constituencies bordering Kolkata in the fourth phase of the West Bengal assembly elections.

Polling took place in the two districts of Howrah (16 seats) and North 24 Parganas (33 constituencies). Balloting began at 7 a.m. and ended at 6 p.m.

“A total of 78.05 percent turnout was recorded till 5 p.m. — 79.16 percent in North 24 Parganas and 75.46 percent in Howrah,” chief electoral officer Sunil Kumar Gupta told media persons here.

Gupta said the poll panel received 4,173 complaints till 6 p.m., of which 4,023 were disposed of.

“In this phase, 11 specific cases have been registered,” said Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Anuj Sharma.

Altogether, 229 people were arrested — 22 in specific cases and 207 under preventive sections.

Over 1.08 crore voters across 12,481 polling stations, including 27 auxiliary booths, were eligible to decide the fate of 345 candidates, including 40 women.

The BJP’s Roopa Ganguly, contesting from Howrah North, alleged “rampant” booth-capturing and bogus voting and faced angry protests from alleged Trinamool Congress activists. Ganguly was heckled allegedly by Trinamool activists.

Her Trinamool rival, retired international cricketer Laxmi Ratan Shukla denied the charge, and accused her of influencing voters and disrupting the poll process.

Shukla said a complaint was subsequently filed by the Trinamool with the poll panel seeking a report from the district administration.

Tanmoy Bhattacharya, the Communist Party of India-Marxist candidate from North Dum Dum, sustained injuries when alleged Trinamool activists pelted stones at his car. Three people were arrested in this connection, Barrackpore police commissioner Niraj Singh said.

He also said three people were arrested in connection with the attack on a family in Halishahar on Sunday night.

According to the family, several masked men entered their house at night and attacked them with sticks and bamboos, and warned them against casting their votes.

A three-and-half-year-old girl was also beaten up. Unfazed by the attack, the toddler’s mother on the day cast her vote.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee lashed out at the Election Commission, accusing central forces of “torturing” the electorate.

“Today, I heard that in the name of central forces, voters were tortured. Can you imagine section 144 (prohibitory orders) has been imposed?…they (the EC) are saying ‘restrict people’s movement’ and put them under curfew. What is this nonsense?”

She claimed that her party during the day reached the magic figure required for majority — 148.

“Today’s poll date is historic… we will achieve majority and in the next days, we will cross the mark,” she claimed.

CPI-M state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra complimented the people for voting in large numbers despite the obstructions, threats and violence “orchestrated” by the Trinamool.

He said the central forces and the Election Commission were more active on Monday than in the earlier phases.

“Undesirable things like driving out opposition polling agents, attempts to capture booths and obstruct voters happened in close to one percent of the booths.”

He also predicted that the Left Front-Congress alliance were on course to winning 200 seats in the 294-member assembly.

A total of 672 companies of central forces and 23,000 state police personnel were 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 and solar lights, officials went the extra mile to ensure that 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 CPI-M three and the CPI 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 the 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.

With Monday’s poling in 49 constituencies, elections have already been held in 216 of the 294 constituencies in the state.

While 53 constituencies go to the hustings on April 30, the remaining 25 will vote on May 5.



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