People turned out in large numbers in four districts -- three of them Maoist-affected -- to exercise their franchise as 40% ballot were cast on Saturday in the first four hours in the fifth and penultimate phase of the West Bengal assembly elections.
Over 74 lakh people are eligible to vote in 38 constituencies spread over parts of Burdwan and Maoist-affected West Midnapore, Bankura, and Purulia districts that went to polls at 7am.
Two helicopters are carrying out aerial surveillance in the forested areas and remote corners of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia, while around 550-600 companies of central paramilitary forces have been deployed on ground.
Polling to decide the fate of 193 candidates is being held in 12 seats of West Midnapore, five in Purulia, nine in Bankura, and 12 in Burdwan districts in this phase covering 9,425 booths. However, the polls in this phase do not include the 14 constituencies considered the hotbed of Maoist activities, which are slated to vote in the final phase May 10.
"Around 40% polling has been recorded till 11 a.m.," Additional Chief Electoral Officer N.K. Sahana told IANS.
Two preventive arrests were made in Burdwan, while 44 Electronic Voting Machines had to be changed after they malfunctioned. Among the heavy-weights in the fray are state Health Minister Surjya Kanta Mishra and state Congress president Manas Bhuniya.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) is contesting 32 seats, the Communist Party of India (CPI) one, Forward Bloc three, the Trinamool Congress 33, the Congress five and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 38.
Polls for the 294-member assembly, which started April 18, will end May 10 with the sixth phase.
Polling has been completed in 242 seats in the first four phases. The counting of votes will take place May 13.