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Huge turnout in Assam, Tripura

- EVMs glitches, boycott and scuffle between Cong, AGP supporters mark first phase

April 7: The first of the nine phases of Lok Sabha election kicked off in Assam and Tripura today with a large voter turnout, EVM snags and poll boycott.

Five of the 14 constituencies in Assam that went to polls in the first phase recorded a 74.19 per cent turnout — it was 69.60 per cent in 2009 — while Tripura, where polling was held in one of the two seats, saw an 85 per cent turnout. The poll percentage was 75.68 per cent in Jorhat, 75.94 per cent in Kaliabor, 72.56 per cent in Dibrugarh, 74 per cent in Tezpur and 72.76 per cent in Lakhimpur. The figure is likely to rise as reports from remote areas are still awaited.

In Assam, long queues were witnessed in all the five constituencies — Lakhimpur, Dibrugarh, Tezpur, Jorhat and Kaliabor — which have 64.11 lakh voters.

Polling was smooth and largely peaceful, barring a few glitches like malfunctioning of a few electronic voting machines (EVMs), poll boycott in a few booths and a clash between Congress and AGP supporters.

Additional chief electoral officer of Assam R.C. Jain said according to reports received till 7.30pm, 74.19 per cent voters had exercised their franchise.

The healthy turnout also assumes significance as it came on a day Ulfa marked its 35th foundation day with the Paresh Barua faction unfurling the outfit’s flag in Sonitpur district.

On the electronic voting machine snag, Jain said 42 EVMs had malfunctioned but they were immediately replaced.

The returning officer of Jorhat Lok Sabha constituency, Solanki Vishal Vasant, said EVMs had malfunctioned in 36 polling stations in the constituency.

Jain said at six polling stations, where a technical snag in EVMs disrupted voting, repolling was likely to be ordered. “However, a final decision on repolling will be taken after we receive the report from the observers,” he added.

An official in the election department, requesting anonymity, said repolling was likely to be ordered in the six polling stations because of delay in the start of voting owing to EVM glitch.

An Assam BJP delegation, led by its vice-president C.K. Das, met state chief electoral officer Vijayendra over the malfunctioning of EVMs. “We were told that all the faulty EVMs were replaced and the votes already cast on these EVMs would be counted during the counting of votes,” he said.

Voters of two polling stations in Majuli island under Lakhimpur Lok Sabha seat boycotted the elections against the government’s failure to give them succour from floods and erosion. Majuli sub-divisional officer (civil) Laya Madduri told The Telegraph that only three votes were cast at Besamora, which has 447 voters and 12 votes at the adjacent polling centre, Falmora, which has 696 voters.

At Silamari Lower Primary School booth under Behali Assembly segment under Tezpur constituency, 869 voters boycotted the polls in protest against the government’s failure to develop the area. Nearly 200 voters of Sonari Lukhurakhan village in Charaideo subdivision of Sivasagar district under Jorhat constituency also boycotted the polls on the issue of development.

Not a single vote was polled at Yokha Memorial School polling station situated along the Assam-Nagaland boundary in Sarupathar Assembly segment under Kaliabor constituency. The 24 voters of the polling station alleged that they were prevented from casting their votes by criminals from Nagaland.

A minor clash erupted between AGP and Congress workers at Silonijan LP school booth in a minority-dominated area of Samaguri in Sarupathar Assembly segment under Kaliabor constituency over voter queues. Police and CRPF personnel resorted to baton charge in which four persons were injured. Polling resumed after a while.

Tripura recorded 85 per cent turnout in the 30 Assembly segments that comprise the Tripura West (general) parliamentary constituency.

“According to the feedback that I have received, average polling is 85 per cent and my estimate is that it will not cross 90 per cent,” said chief electoral officer Ashutosh Jindal.

He said he had received two complaints from the Congress about alleged booth-capturing by CPM cadres in Barjala and Ramnagar Assembly segments. “I do not wish to comment as I have ordered an investigation but prima facie the complaints do not appear to be serious,” he added.

According to the extended schedule, polling began in West Tripura constituency at 7am. Men and women in traditional attire queued up before polling stations in the seven Assembly segments reserved for Scheduled Tribes. The rush for casting votes in the morning hours was more because of the heat wave that was expected as the day proceeded. Polling slowed down considerably after 11am but picked up momentum from 2pm till the end at 5pm.

“There were minor hiccups in voting at one polling station in Sonamura constituency in Sipahijala district, three polling stations at Ramthakur Girls Higher Secondary School, Upendra Vidya Bhawan and Abhay Nagar Higher Secondary School in Agartala, and another polling station at Mohanpur agriculture department’s office in Mohanpur subdivision. However, the machines were either set right or replaced promptly and polling proceeded smoothly,” Jindal said.

Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar cast his vote at Shishu Vihar Higher Secondary School polling station in Agartala at 7.30am and spent the rest of the day campaigning in Khowai under Tripura East (ST) Lok Sabha seat where polling is scheduled for April 12.