72% turnout in Odisha’s Bijepur bypoll
An estimated 72% of voters on Saturday exercised their franchise in the by-election to the Bijepur Assembly seat in Odisha that passed off peacefully, a top election official said.
“Around 72 per cent of the electorate cast their votes by 5 pm in the by-poll,” state Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Surendra Kumar told reporters.
Voting continued in 85 polling booths where people who were assembled in a queue were allowed to exercise their franchise.
Around 81.86% polling had been recorded in Bijepur Assembly segment in the 2014 election, he said.
Stating that the polling remained “completely peaceful,” the CEO said no untoward incident was reported, even in the five Naxal-affected polling stations in the Assembly segment, located in Bargarh district.
It was a smooth affair barring brief interruptions in some booths in the early stage of voting, due to technical snags in Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines, the official said.
Kumar said that the presiding officer of booth No. 193 was placed under suspension with immediate effect, after he was found trying to influence voters in favour of a particular candidate.
Another officer replaced the suspended officer, identified as Bahadur Sahu, head master of a school in Bheden block.
Arrangements have been made to keep the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) under tight security after polling was held from 8 am to 5 pm, he said.
Counting of votes would be undertaken on February 28. While the electoral fate of a total of 13 candidates were sealed in the EVMs, it appeared to be a triangular contest among nominees of the ruling BJD, the Congress and the BJP.
The by-poll was necessitated due to the death of Congress MLA Subal Sahu in August last year.
Subal Sabu’s wife Rita Sahu has been fielded this time by the BJD, while Ashok Panigrahi is nominated by the BJP, and Pranay Sahu by the Congress.
Elaborate security arrangements were made for the by-election, especially in the wake of pre-poll violence in and around the area, officials said.
Around 2.21 lakh voters were eligible to exercise their franchise in 281 polling booths set up for the by-poll, as against 270 booths during the Assembly polls in 2014, they said.
Of the 281 booths, 155 were identified as critical. “We have 12 dedicated squads to ensure free and fair polling in all the places,” the CEO said.
Six check posts were also set up in the border areas from entering the Bijepur constituency, according to Bargarh SP, Jai Narayan Pankaj.
Security has been tightened following recent incidents of violence, including an attack on the brother of state Labour Minister Susanta Singh yesterday.
A total of five companies (500 personnel) of Central Paramilitary Force along with one company (85 personnel) of Odisha Swift Action Force have been deployed on poll duty, a senior police officer said.
In addition, 40 platoons (1,200 personnel) of state armed police have been pressed into service, he said.