The seven-kilomtere path walk from Chauburji village to Suratnagar in Nighasan assembly segment through the forest is fraught with danger -- full of elephants, tigers, leopards and hyenas.
And it is this stretch that Chauburji villagers need to travel to cast their vote in Suratnagar. In 2012, elephants trampled two villagers as they were going to cast their vote.
But this time, the villagers are in no mood to take the risk, even threatening to boycott polling altogether. This has in fact forced the administration to deploy armed forest guards to make it safer when they go out to exercise their franchise in the by-poll on Saturday.
Chauburji, with 615 voters, is located near Dudhwa National Park and comes under the buffer created by the forest department to check human-animal conflict.
“We had urged the district administration to set up a booth in the village so that we could cast our vote without any fear. But the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) told us that we would have to go to Suratnagar. That's not done keeping in view the danger to out lives involved and we decided to stay at home and conveyed our decision to the SDM,” Gram pradhan Sarvesh told HT.
The threat seemed to have worked. On Wednesday, the district officers reached the village and another meeting was held in which the safety issue was taken up.
“I told the villagers that a safe corridor would be created in the forest to protect them from wild animals. Armed forest sentries would stand guard from 7am till the end of polling at 6pm to stop the animals from straying on to the corridor,” district magistrate LB Chaubey said while talking to Hindustan Times.
“We have also arranged boats to transport the voters across the Mohana to the booth to cast their votes. Boats would be stationed on either side of the river,” Chaubey said.
“The problem arose due to the change in course of the Mohana after recent floods. Earlier villagers used to walk to Suratnagar to vote. I wrote to the Election Commission (EC) for establishment of booth in Chauburji village, but the EC rejected my request and said it would be set up only during the 2017 assembly elections. I was left with no option but arrange for boats and security guards for the voters,” Chaubey said.
However, convincing the villagers was not an easy task, till the observer appointed by EC RK Kaul stepped in. He accompanied the DM to the village.
A senior IAS officer of the Jammu and Kashmir cadre, Kaul told the villagers that his house in Srinagar has been submerged during the floods.
“Without caring for my family, I have come to request you to cross the forest and the river to cast your vote,” he appealed.
Assured of their protection and the administration’s support, the villagers have finally revoked the boycott call.
Gram pradhan Sarvesh said, “We are satisfied with the arrangements made for our safety. Every one of us will go and cast our vote on Saturday.”