Defying Maoists’ poll boycott call, an estimated 72% voters turned up at polling stations in Jharkhand on Sunday to exercise their franchise in the first of the four-phase panchayat polls, state election officials said.
Barring minor clashes between police and voters in Garhwa, Palamu and Giridih districts, polling in 1,243 panchayats of 78 blocks, mostly Maoist-affected, passed off peacefully. In 2010, the first phase of panchayat polls had registered 64% voting.
“Voter turnout was encouraging in the first phase. The overall polling percentage in 78 blocks will increase when the final figures are known in a day or two,” said state election commissioner Shiv Basant.
“The phase was challenging as some panchayats were Maoist-affected. We used our limited resources to the optimum level and made heavy deployment of security forces in sensitive and hyper-sensitive booths,” Basant said, adding that the voting percentage indicated bigger turnout in the remaining phases.
Congratulating voters for participating in the three-tier panchayat polls in large numbers, chief minister Raghubar Das said village development was his government’s first priority.
Polling stations allowed entry to voters at 7am at 1,243 gram panchayats in 24 districts amid tight security. Long queues of women voters were seen at most booths.
“We waited for an hour in a queue to elect our village head for local governance. The right person will take our village on the path of development,” said Rina Devi, a voter of Boriya panchayat in Kanke block of Ranchi district.
More than 55,000 security personnel were deployed to ensure free and fair elections. Maoist-affected Shikaripara, Kathikund, Ramgarh and Gopikandar blocks of Dumka district recorded more than 70% polling.
Dumka additional collector Uday Pratap said paramilitary forces had been deployed in sensitive and most sensitive booths of Maoist-affected blocks.
Villagers clashed with police over alleged bogus voting at some places. Police resorted to lathi charge at booth 64 of Godramana panchayat in Garhwa district, injuring 20 people. Irate villagers set police motorbikes on fire in Chorgata panchayat of Giridih district.
Untari Road police station officer-in-charge Nandkishor Sahu was injured in a clash between police and villagers at Satbahani in Palamu district. “The OC sustained injuries after being hit by a stone. He is out of danger,” said Palamu superintendent of police Mayur Patel.
Villagers demanded repolling at Kokro booth in Dhakacha panchayat in Hariharganj block of Palamu after polling officials left the booth with a candidate without sealing ballot boxes.
The election was held for 18,472 posts including 1,243 mukhiyas, 155 zila parishad members, 1,552 panchayat samiti members and 15,522 gram panchayat members. Twelve mukhiyas have been elected unopposed.
As many as 36,976 candidates were in the fray.