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Rural voters defy ultra threats, 72% vote for Phase-1 Panchayat polls in State

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Ranchi, Nov. 22:  More than 72 percent electorate exercised their franchise on Sunday in the first of the four-phased three-tier rural local bodies’ elections in Jharkhand held amid tight security and threats by Maoists, officials said.

Police said around 55,000 security personnel, including those of the paramilitary forces, Jharkhand Armed Police and Indian Reserve Battalion, among others, were deployed for the panchayat polls – the second since the state was formed in 2000, as Maoist guerrillas had put up posters and banners threatening both candidates and voters.

Polling was held at 15,522 polling stations in 78 of the 264 blocks in the State from 7 a.m. till 3 p.m., an official said. 

A total of 36,967 candidates – including 19,884 women – are in the fray for 18,472 posts in the zila parishads and panchayat samitis and as heads of panchayats and gram panchayat members. 

The posts up for grab include 15,522 in gram panchayats, 1,243 as panchayat heads, 1,552 in panchayat samitis and 155 in zila parishads. There are a total 24 districts in Jharkhand. 

As many as 48.88 lakh voters were eligible to exercise their franchise in the first phase, including 23.48 lakh females. 

The four phases of the voting for electing new rural local bodies are scheduled for November 22, November 28, December 5 and December 12. 

The results for the first and second phase will be announced on December 6 while the results of the third and fourth phases will be declared on December 13 and December 19, respectively.

Our report in Jamshedpur adds that despite Maoists threats against participating in the panchayat polls, the rural population in Naxal infested blocks of Dumaria (72%), Ghorabandha (76%) and Mosaboni (62%) participated overwhelmingly in the elections to exercise their franchise.

The overall voting percentage in the district was 68.

“It has become a regular affair for Maoists to give a poll boycott call, but the people here are brave enough to face every challenge and exercise their franchise. In last Assembly polls too, the participation of the people was tremendous,” said Jay Kishore, a social activist from Ghatshila.

Meanwhile, the district administration officials said all necessary initiatives were taken to hold free and fair polling.

Amitabh Kaushal, Deputy Commissioner, East Singhbhum said that the first phase of polling concluded peacefully with no incident of violence reported so far. He expressed happiness over the response from the voters and said that everything went of smoothly.

“The good thing is that people responded to the panchayat elections overwhelmingly and the administration is quite happy,” the deputy commissioner and district election officer said.

Another district official said that though Maoists have put up posters asking people to boycott polls and threatening candidates like it Musaboni under Ghatshila sub-division, security has been beefed up in areas said to be dominated by them.

“We had intensified patrolling and combing operation in the area to foil any possible Maoist violence and ensure free and fair polls.

Apart from sealing the borders attached to neighbouring districts, we have also urged police superintendents of neighbouring States to pace up vigilance exercise at their end,” said Anoop Mathew, East Singhbum SSP.

Sakro Hansda, a candidate for panchayat samity member from Ghurabandha panchayat, lodged a complaint with the sector magistrate at around 1 p.m. after not finding her name and poll symbol (pair of slippers) in the ballot paper at Booth No. 29 in Utkramit Madhya Vidyalaya, Kasiabera in Ghurabandha block, around 100 km from city. 

“I have lodged a complaint with the sector magistrate (Kunj Sahu) and also with Ghurabandha BDO Ashok Kumar,” said Sakro Hansda, who is contesting in the post for the first time.

The booth has 413 voters (female- 214 and male 199).

Sector magistrate Kunj Sahu said that the panchayat samity members along with her supporter created a ruckus and disturbed polling for nearly an hour.

Kaushal admitted that he received a complaint in this regard and ordered an inquiry.

“I have ordered an inquiry by the BDO and the presiding officer and the decision would be taken tomorrow after getting report of the presiding officer,” Kaushal said.

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