The damage to road network in flash floods has put a cloud over the Mandi parliamentary by-election in tribal Kinnaur district.
There's a strong likelihood of the voting being postponed form June 23 for another one week until the flood-ravaged areas of Kinnaur assembly constituency are normal. The Mandi constituency has 1,921 polling booths, of which 118 are in Kinnaur district and 89 in Lahaul and Spiti.
Off the 118 polling booths in Kinnaur, flash floods and incessant rain have made 104 inaccessible, while in Lahaul and Spiti, three are in this condition. With less than two days to go for the voting, the election commission is in a dilemma. The deputy commissioner of Kinnaur, JM Pathania, already has written to the chief electoral office, suggesting that in wake of the floods, the election in Kinnaur be put off by a week.
Since several villages are inaccessible by road, polling parties can't get there, Pathania has said. The DC of Mandi, who is returning officer for entire constituency, mentioned in a letter that in case the police teams on election duty were unable to reach Kaza by Friday, the election will have to be deferred in the polling stations that are affected by flooding. The teams continue to be stranded at Rampur.
In wake of flooding in Kinnaur, the election commission had forwarded a detailed report to the chief election commission in New Delhi. "We apprised it of the difficult situation in Kinnaur," said chief electoral officer Narinder Chauhan. "Flooding has caused extensive damage to roads, which has hampered the movement of polling parties. It will also make it difficult for voters to reach there," he added.
The election commission, when meets in New Delhi on Friday, will take a final call on the elections in Kinnaur. "Polling parties can be airlifted only till the helipads, the rest of the distance they will have to walk," said Chauhan. Nearly 600 men of the state police and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) are on election duty in Kinnaur.
Supposed to move on Friday according to the official schedule, nearly 500 government employees also are on poll duty. The state election commission had asked the state government for a helicopter to airlift the men and material. "Today (on Thursday), the entire focus was on rescuing the stranded people. If the weather remains fine, we will spare a chopper," said secretary (general administration) Bharat Khera.
The counting of votes is scheduled for June 27. Pratibha Singh, wife of chief minister Virbhadra Singh, is the Congress nominee, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has fielded former rural development minister Jai Ram Thakur.