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Peaceful polling in West Bengal

Over 67,000 paramilitary force personnel and 13,000 police personnel were deployed for the 3rd phase.

india Updated: Apr 28, 2006 17:14 IST

Millions voted on Thursday in Kolkata and two adjoining districts in the third round of West Bengal's assembly elections amid unprecedented security arrangements and strictures by the Election Commission.

Barring stray incidents including bursting of crackers near an election booth in the constituency of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya in Jadavpur, the polling was peaceful across North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas and Kolkata.

Chief electoral officer Debasish Sen said around 50 per cent turnout had been recorded till 2 pm. The 10-hour balloting ended at 5 pm.

"The election process was peaceful with no major incident of violence or malpractice," Sen told reporters.

But electronic voting machines (EVM) failed to function in some places, sparking protests by furious citizens.

Sen himself failed to exercise his franchise in the first attempt because of EVM malfunctioning in his booth at Prakash Bhavan in Salt Lake.

Two men were arrested for bursting crackers near a school in Jadavpur after voters and paramilitary personnel chased them.

An EVM was destroyed at Tollygunge area in south Kolkata.

Deputy election commissioner Anand Kumar had to pacify voters at various places over non-functioning EVMs and the absence of the names of genuine voters from the electoral list.

He was surrounded by angry voters at KBKC block in Salt Lake where about 600 names were reportedly struck off from the list.

From Chief Minister Bhattacharya and his predecessor Jyoti Basu to cricketer Sourav Ganguly and the Bengali film fraternity, the polling in Kolkata was time for many political heavyweights and celebrities to exercise their franchise.

"I voted for the improvement of West Bengal," said the beleaguered former Indian captain in Behala after voting with his wife Dona.

The chief minister voted with his wife and daughter at Patha Bhavan school in Ballygune in south Kolkata.

The three districts have 77 seats - North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas 28 seats each and Kolkata 21. But polling was held in 76 seats.

Polling in Bhatpara in North 24 Parganas has been deferred till mid-May following the death of a woman candidate of the Bahujan Samaj Party.

The total electorate in the three districts was 12.4 million. There were 474 candidates including 36 women.

The main contest is between the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left Front and the Trinamool Congress. The Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are also in the fray.

Over 67,000 paramilitary force personnel and 13,000 police personnel were deployed. The election atmosphere was charged up, especially with removal of two election observers in Belgachaia East seat in North 24 Parganas.

The two observers were removed by the Election Commission following complaints from the CPI-M for casting aspersions on the previous polling records of the constituency from where Transport Minister Subhas Chakraborty contested.

Although the ruling Left Front is tipped to win control of the 294-member house for the seventh consecutive term, the third phase will be crucial to show if the Left has the support of Kolkata or not.

West Bengal's five-phase elections end May 8.