Officials check EVMs before locking them in a strong room in Kendrapara. Telegraph picture
Kendrapara/Bhubaneswar April 19: Large areas in Kendrapara district, including the township, today witnessed protests with people hitting the streets and staging demonstrations after 28 electronic voting machines (EVMs) were seized from outside the residence of a government official in Marshaghai yesterday.
At various places, protesters put up roadblocks, paralysing vehicular movement.
In order to contain the growing disturbances, the administration promptly ordered prohibitory orders, which will remain in force till April 21. People were heard raising slogans like “Down down EVM tampering…Save democracy…punish the murderers of democracy”.
The district, which also witnessed post-poll violence, in which one person was killed and four were injured last night. BJD supporter Arjun Rout, 53, was killed and four others suffered serious injuries in a clash with Congress workers at Badiha village in the Aul police station jurisdiction. The Kendrapara district Congress committee president Debendra Sharma, who is also the Assembly candidate from Aul, however, denied involvement of his party men in the clash.
Kendrapara additional superintendent of police Ramesh Chandra Mohanty said: “It was a clash between two rival political parties. The police are investigation the matter. Security has been stepped up at sensitive places of Aul and Rajnagar constituencies. Search is on to arrest the accused persons.”
A worried district administration expected widespread protests in the district over recovery of the EVMs from outside the residence of Marshaghai block development officer (BDO). A mob had assaulted the BDO and few other low-level government officials.
There is palpable tension in the coastal Lok Sabha seat considered to be the BJD bastion. The EVMs were reportedly meant for the Mahakalpada Assembly seat, where BJP stalwart and a bete noire of BJD president Naveen Patnaik, Bijoy Mohapatra, is making a desperate bid to enter inside the state legislature after a gap of 14 years. Engaged in a proxy war with Naveen, Bijoy had been crying foul and accused the administration of trying to tamper the polls.
Kendrapara district collector Nitin Bhanudas Jawale said: “The prohibitory orders under section 144 Cr PC will remain in force till April 21 as post-poll disturbances have escalated in various parts of the district. Any assembly of more than four persons, holding out of roadblocks, public meetings and rallies will be treated as breach of law.”
The administration also said the 28 unused EVMs that were found loaded in a vehicle parked at the BDO’s residence had been handed over to police and as a case has been registered. The district collector has recommended disciplinary action against the erring BDO to the Election Commission of India.
“An official letter in this regard has been sent to the Election Commission through the state’s chief electoral officer,” Jawale said adding that the official had committed an act of impropriety by diverting the vehicle, carrying the EVMs, to his residence instead of sending them to the strong room. Claiming that the EVMs were meant for demonstration purposes, the administration today said all the 388 reserve EVMs were brought from all the block headquarters of the district and stored in another strong room in presence of the political parties’ representatives.
Besides, the Odisha Administrative Service Officers’ Association condemned the attack on Marshaghai BDO Sushanta Pati and threatened not to take part in any poll related activities if the government failed to take action against those who had assaulted him within 48 hours. The association’s general secretary Jyoti Ranjan Mishra issued the statement.
In Bhubaneswar, BJP leader Bijoy Mohapatra said: “The police seized the EVMs. There were attempts to tamper with the machines.” Making a blistering attack on the chief minister’s office “for taking a partisan role during the election”, Mohapatra said: “A committee was constituted under the chief minister’s secretary V.K. Pandian to oversee the elections on behalf of the ruling party. The chief electoral officer’s office was also used by the BJD and Pandian. The officers on special duty attached to various ministers worked overtime for their political masters.”