The Election Commission has justified its decision to hold polls in 86,000 Naxal-affected booths in the first phase, saying that way it could provide the best security arrangement, which resulted in “appreciable” voter turnout.
Chief Election Commissioner-designate Navin Chawla told HT that causalities would have been higher had elections in these areas been phased out.
“It was important to complete Naxal-affected areas in the first phase because it gave three weeks of area domination by Central security forces. For subsequent phases, this period of time would not have been available,” explained Chawla, who will take over as CEC on April 20.
His statement comes after security agencies raised questions over the EC’s decision to hold elections in Naxal-hit areas across five states in a single phase.
On April 16 — the first day of voting — 19 people were killed in Naxal-related violence, including 10 security personnel, across Jharkhand, Bihar and Chhattisgarh. Naxal violence was also reported from Orissa and Maharashtra.
Another EC official, who was not willing to be named, echoed Chawla. If elections would have happened in phases, then security forces could have been provided for maximum of three to four days. It would have also adversely impacted poll percentages, said the official.
In wake of the Maoists’ poll boycott call, the voter turnout in Naxal-dominated areas was less compared to previous elections.
In Chhattisgarh’s Bastar, Kanker and Sarguja constituencies turnout was less than the 2008 assembly elections, said an official of the state’s Chief Electoral Office. Polling percentage recorded in Bastar this time was 51.55% (54.5% in 2008); in Kanker 60.47 per cent (63.2% in 2008); and in Sarguja 64.33% (66.2% in 2008).
In Orissa’s in Naxal-affected districts, the polling percentage this time was 53% — a fall of 10% from 2004.
The EC, however, termed the turnout “satisfactory” considering the threat perception. “The minute planning of three months by the EC and state chief electoral officers on every aspect of election management in these difficult states worked,” said Chawla.
On an average, over 40 per cent polling was recorded in the 86,000 booths, barring boycotts in 30-40 booths.
To provide enough security cover to polling staff, the EC created a control room in the state’s Chief Electoral Office to track each polling personnel on duty. All the polling stations in Naxal areas were mapped and many hypersensitive booths were changed to safer locations in consultation with political parties and candidates.
“Under these very difficult circumstances, I believe that democracy has triumphed,” Chawla said.