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High-voltage bypoll peaceful in Bijepur

Women queue up outside a polling centre to cast their votes in Bijepur on Saturday. Telegraph picture

Bhubaneswar: Around 2.21 lakh voters exercised their franchise at 281 booths during the Bijepur bypoll in which 13 candidates were in the fray on Saturday .

Polling began at 8am and was by and large incident-free. The only major aberration was removal of a presiding officer mid-way through voting for trying to influence people to vote in favour of a particular party.

Chief electoral officer Surendra Kumar said the presiding officer of booth No. 193, Bahadur Sahu, was removed after preliminary inquiry found him asking voters to favour a particular candidate.

Surendra said that 72 per cent polling had been recorded till 5pm but the percentage was likely to increase as a large number of voters were still inside the booths when the deadline for exercising the franchise expired. For the first-time, voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) machines were used in the bypoll at certain places.

Given the sensitive nature of by-election, which saw a high-voltage campaign by the BJD, BJP and the Congress, five companies of central paramilitary forces and 36 platoons of the Odisha State Armed Police had been deployed in the constituency to ensure peace.

Of the 281 booths, 155 had been marked "critical" by the administration. While six flying squads were on duty on the polling day, three static surveillance teams were also deployed. Sources said 50 video cameras were installed in polling booths and web casting was done on eight booths.

Stakes being high for the three major parties, the run up to voting not only saw leaders of these parties, especially BJP and BJD engaging in bitter recrimination. It was also marked by violence that claimed one life. The brother of the minister of state for labour, Sushant Singh, and three of his aides - Prabhat Kumar Nag, Khageswar Mahalik and his driver Dileswar Sahu - suffered grievous injuries following an attack at Banabira Chowk in Sohela block on Friday. Sahu later succumbed to his injuries.

Chief minister Naveen Patnaik assured that his party would take care of Sahu's wife and the education of his two children. "I am deeply distressed at the tragic demise of Dileswar Sahu. The BJD will look after his family and children's education. This is a very heinous and dreadful crime. People of Odisha will give a befitting reply to the criminals," he said.

The BJP, on the other hand, demanded a CBI inquiry into the incident. "People responsible for the crime should be identified. It should be probed by CBI," said party MLA Pradeep Purohit.

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