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People brave sun, cast vote

First-time voters strike a pose after casting their vote at a booth in Berhampur. Picture by Gopal Krishna Reddy

Bhubaneswar, April 10: More than 67 per cent voters turned up at booths across south and west Odisha to exercise their franchise in the first phase of polling in the state today, which passed off peacefully barring stray incidents of violence.

Despite tight security arrangements, poling was disrupted in Maoist-hit Malkangiri and Koraput districts. A re-poll was ordered by the Election Commission in 10 polling booths in the two districts as electronic voting machines were snatched away by goons.

Maoists had called upon the people in the region to boycott polls, which had prompted the administration to take additional security measures. Besides, deployment of three Indian Air Force helicopters, as many as 60 companies of central para-military forces and more than 27,000 state police personnel were deployed to ensure peaceful polls.

Polling was held in more than 17,000 booths in 10 Lok Sabha constituencies and 70 Assembly segments. As many as 54 Assembly segments fell in the Maoist-affected areas.

“The polling was by and large peaceful barring a few sporadic incidents. More than 67 per cent voters exercised their franchise today,” said state’s chief electoral officer Mona Sharma.

Sharma said polling was disrupted in eight booths in Malkangiri district and two in Koraput district. While electronic voting machines were snatched by goons from four booths in Chitrakonda, the machines were also taken away from the polling party while they returning from Jodamba cut-off area.

Reports said while the EVMs were taken away from four polling stations last night and burnt down in Chitrakonda Assembly constituency of Malkangiri district within the limits of Mathili police station, the machines were snatched from a polling station during the poll in Kotpad Assembly constituency under Baipariguda police station of Koraput.

Later in the evening, EVMs were snatched from two polling parties in Pottangi Assembly constituency. Three other polling parties in Jodamba in Malkangiri also met with the same fate as goons took away these machines while they were being carried to the office of the returning officer.

These incidents were suspected to be the handiwork of the Maoists as these areas have been identified as highly vulnerable. The chief electoral officer also informed that technical snags were also reported in some polling stations in less than 100 instances. However, the defective machines were replaced and the polling resumed.

Though complaints of booth rigging in Daspalla in Nayagarh district were also received, those were later found to be false.

In Ganjam, Satyabadi Sahu, 48, sarpanch of Bada Khairakhama panchayat within the limits of Beguniapada block in Kabisuryanagar Assembly constituency was severely injured as he and his son were allegedly attacked with sharp weapons by BJD supporters on their way to cast their vote. The incident took place in Sradhapur village, about 70km from Berhampur, at 11.30am. Sahu is a supporter of Hara Prasad Sahu, an Independent candidate contesting from Kabisuryanagar Assembly seat.

A high voter turn out was reported this time despite gruelling heat. Two cases of suspected sunstroke deaths were reported in Balangir district. While a 70-year-old woman died 200 metres away from the polling station in Balangir, a 65-year-old man breathed his last in the ambulance on the way to a hospital while being rushed from the polling booth in Patnagarh Assembly seat.

Fate of as many as 771 candidates was decided today. Prominent among them were chief minister Naveen Patnaik, former chief ministers Giridhar Gamang and Hemananda Biswal, former Union ministers Dillip Ray, Bhakta Charan Das and Chandra Sekhar Sahu, star-turned politician Siddhant Mohapatra, BJP state president K.V. Singh Deo and several state ministers.

Cash seized

An Election Commission’s surveillance team, constituted to a check cash transactions during the polls, today seized cash over Rs 5 lakh from a car.

The cash was recovered from the Talcher-bound vehicle during a routine check on the national highway No. 5 near Bhanpur in the Sadar police limits. Over 1,000 posters belonging to the ruling party were recovered from the vehicle that was intercepted near a petrol pump on the highway (between Bhubaneswar and Cuttack) in the afternoon.

“Our surveillance team recovered the cash worth over Rs 5 lakh and election materials from the vehicle during the routine check-up on the national highway,” said sub-collector Sudarshan Parida.