Over 67 percent turnout in Bengal polls fourth phase

Updated: 25 Apr 2016 09:51 PM
Kolkata:  Amid sweltering heat and allegations of electoral malpractice, over 67 percent of the more than 1.08 crore voters on Monday exercised their right to franchise across 49 constituencies bordering Kolkata in the fourth phase of the West Bengal assembly elections.

Polling took place in the two districts of Howrah and North 24 Parganas. Balloting began at 7 a.m. and will end at 6 p.m.

A total of 67.28 percent turnout was recorded till 3 p.m. -- 67.27 percent in North 24 Parganas and 67.31 percent in Howrah -- said an Election Commission official.

While the EC said the polls were peaceful, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress alleged rigging in some booths.

The BJP's Roopa Ganguly, contesting from Howrah North, alleged "rampant" booth-capturing and bogus voting and faced angry protests from alleged Trinamool Congress activists.

"Since morning, I have been getting complaints about intimidation of our voters and assault on our polling agents who have been driven out of polling booths. There has been rampant booth-capturing and bogus voting by the Trinamool," said Ganguly, who was heckled allegedly by Trinamool activists outside a booth.

Her Trinamool rival, retired international cricketer Laxmi Ratan Shukla, denied the charge.

Accusing her of influencing voters and disrupting the poll process, Shukla said a complaint has been filed against her with the EC after the actress-turned-politician "forcibly entered the booth and clicked pictures with her mobile camera".

The poll panel has sought a report from Howrah district officials on Ganguly's movements.

Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Tanmoy Bhattacharya (North Dum Dum) sustained injuries when alleged Trinamool activists pelted stone at his car.

Following a complaint by Bhattacharya, three people were arrested, said Barrackpore police commissioner Niraj Singh, adding that over 100 people have been arrested or detained for bogus voting, voter intimidation and other poll disruptions.

He also said three people were arrested in connection with the attack on a family in Halishahar on Sunday night.

According to the family, several masked men entered their house at night and attacked them with sticks and bamboos, and warned them against casting their votes.

A three-and-half-year-old girl was also beaten up. Unfazed by the attack, the toddler's mother on the day cast her vote.

Condemning the attack, Communist Party of India-Marxist state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra accused the Trinamool of orchestrating the attack.

"Even a three-and-half-year-old child is not spared by Trinamool goons, as her father is a Left polling agent. We salute the brave mother. We stand with all our might by this indomitable family," said Mishra.

Accusing the Trinamool of targeting even babies, elderly and women, Mishra said the "attacks were a reflection of the Trinamool's frustration at losing ground".

Left Front-Congress alliance backed independent candidate Pratima Dutta, the wife of murdered green activist Tapan Dutta, alleged that her polling agents were driven out or not allowed to enter some of the booths in her constituency Domjur in Howrah.

A bomb attack was reported from a booth in Belgharia's Jatin Das Nagar.

North 24 Parganas, a part of which falls under the world's largest mangrove forests -- the Sundarbans -- has 33 constituencies. The remaining 16 are in Howrah.

Over 1.08 crore voters across 12,481 polling stations, including 27 auxiliary booths, are eligible to decide the fate of 345 candidates, including 40 women.

The Election Commission has used 14,353 electronic voting machines (EVM) and 680 Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT).

A total of 672 companies of central forces and 23,000 state police personnel have been deployed to ensure free and fair polls in the two districts in view of past political clashes and poll-related disturbances.

In the Sundarbans region, equipped with ham radio and solar lights, officials have gone the extra mile to ensure that the electorate gets a chance to exercise their voting rights.

In the 2011 polls, the Trinamool -- then an ally of the Congress -- bagged 43 of the 49 seats. The Congress got two, the Communist Party of India-Marxist three and the Communist Party of India one.

The Trinamool and the BJP are in the fray in all the constituencies. The Left and the Congress are contesting 46 seats, leaving one seat to the Janata Dal-United, besides backing two independents.

Khardah in North 24 Parganas district is again witnessing a battle between two economists -- finance, industries and IT minister Amit Mitra of the Trinamool and Asim Dasgupta of the CPI-M.