Bhubaneswar/Sambalpur, Feb. 18: Maoists snatched ballot papers from a booth in western Orissa’s Sambalpur even as the government planned to demand the inclusion of two more districts to the list of Naxalite-affected areas.
The government wants Delhi to put Dhenkanal and Kandhamal in the category of Maoist-hit states. But it was in Sambalpur, which is not on the list, where the rebels struck last night.
A band of around 15 Naxalites descended on a polling booth at Panduapali in Sadapali gram panchayat, around 90 km from Sambalpur and 350 km from Bhubaneswar, last night and snatched ballot papers kept for the fourth phase of polling tomorrow.
The rebels held the home guard on duty at gunpoint and snatched around 2,000 papers before escaping into a nearby jungle. There were reportedly two women in the group.
The Maoists also threatened the polling staff to “leave the place” and said they would not allow conduct of the fourth phase.
After getting the news, senior police officers and the collector of Sambalpur rushed to the spot to take stock of the situation and make additional arrangements at booths in Panduapali and neighbouring areas.
“There is no reason to bow down before the Maoists. Further, police and CRPF are ready to face and tackle any situation during polling in the fourth and fifth phases,” said district collector L.N. Nayak. “There is no reason for the polling staff to panic as they will get adequate security,” the official assured.
“Patrolling will be intensified till completion of the fourth phase on Monday, including counting of votes. The polling process will not be disrupted and the Maoists will not succeed in their bid to prevent voters from exercising their franchise,” said superintendent of police S. Devdutt Singh.
Fresh ballot papers have been issued to the booth for Monday’s poll, Singh added.
When Orissa will have the penultimate round of polls tomorrow, the government will put forward a proposal to extend the Maoist-hit tag to Dhenkanal and Kandhamal at a meeting of chief ministers of Naxalite-affected states in Delhi.
Chief minister Naveen Patnaik and chief secretary Ajit Tripathy had been invited to attend the meeting.
Speaking to The Telegraph, home secretary T.K. Mishra said the government would submit the proposal besides reiterating its earlier demand for inclusion of Deogarh, Sambalpur and Jajpur in the same category.
Nine districts — Malkangiri, Koraput, Rayagada, Nowrangpur, Gajapati, Ganjam, Mayurbhanj, Sundargarh and Keonjhar — have been covered under the security-related expenditure reimbursement scheme of the central government.
A senior police officer said the necessity of including Dhenkanal and Kandhamal was felt in the wake of some recent developments.
Recently, the Maoists killed three forest employees in Dhenkanal while in Kandhamal, reports of Naxalite activities have trickled in from the hilly areas.
Meanwhile, 20 people were injured, four seriously, in a poll-related clash in Gadisagada village of Puri today.
The clash took place between supporters of the CPM candidate, who won, and the losing Congress nominee. “There was exchange of bullets and bombs,” said Jitendra Parida, a police officer.