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Bedrolls for poll officers

Raiganj, March 25: The North Dinajpur district administration has taken up a project jointly with the Election Commission through which, each polling officer will get a bedroll and mosquito repellent for a comfortable overnight stay at the voting stations in Raiganj constituency.

The bedrolls, each of which include a mattress, bed sheets and an air pillow, and mosquito coils would be sourced from women self-help groups.

District magistrate Sita Pandey claimed the project, Aapnaar Jonno (For You), was the first of its kind in the country.

Pandey has decided to take up the project following her experience of working as a probationary officer in Burdwan district in 2006. During the bypoll to the Katwa Lok Sabha seat that year, Pandey was asked to work for the elections.

“I was asked to be a presiding officer in one of the booths during the September 2006 bypolls. Except me, all other poll officials were men. I was asked to spend the night at a government bungalow, 4km from the booth, while the rest stayed at the polling station,” she said.

The next day, Pandey returned to the booth only to see everyone bleary-eyed. “They had virtually spent a sleepless night, bitten by mosquitoes, and sleeping on sheets brought from home and spread over wooden benches. Despite being tired, they worked hard throughout the polling day,” she said. “Soon after I took over as the district magistrate of North Dinajpur (her first posting as a DM), the polls were announced. I decided to address the comforts of poll workers. Under the scheme, each person would be given a mattress, bed sheets, an air pillow and mosquito coils that would help them sleep at night,” she said.

Pandey said there was a tradition of making dhokra (mattress) in the district. “We have placed orders with self-help groups. The project is worth Rs 30 lakh. The Election Commission would bear half the cost,” she said.

Pandey, who is the returning officer for Raiganj Lok Sabha seat, said 6,900 poll officers would be deployed and orders had been placed for 7,000 bedrolls. Air pillows and mosquito coils would also be supplied by self-help groups.

Swati Saha, from a self-help group in Itahar, said: “Usually, we make about 15 dhokras a month. We have got an order of 3,000 now. We have 10 members and the orders have to be given to other groups. Each dhokra costs around Rs 200.”

Raiganj will vote on April 24.

“It is the third time that I will work for the polls. Barring EVMs, forms, sheets and marking ink, we get nothing from the administration. It is heartening to see that our comforts are being looked into,” said a schoolteacher from Raiganj.