Over 60 percent polling in Himachal Pradesh till 3 pm

Shimla: Himachal Pradesh recorded over 60 percent voter turnout by 3 pm on Sunday after a sluggish start to polling in the 68 state assembly constituencies.

"The voter turnout was just nine percent in the first hour but by 12 noon, it rose to 30 percent and 60 percent by 3 pm," the state's Chief Electoral Officer Narinder Chauhan told reporters.

The maximum turnout was in Kullu district (68 percent) followed by Sirmaur (66 percent), Chamba (62 percent), Solan, Bilaspur and Mandi (59 percent each), Shimla (58 percent) and Kangra district (56 percent), he said.

Polling has been peaceful and no major untoward incident has been reported, except a minor clash between BJP and Congress workers at a polling station in Chamba town, election officials said.

Reuters

Officials said there was no report of any delay in starting the poll process. The polling will end at 5 pm.

The officials expected heavy polling since the weather is clear and sunny.

A record number of 459 candidates, including 27 women, are in the fray.

The Election Commission has set up 7,253 polling stations for 46,08,359 electors, including 23,76,587 men.

The main contest is between the Congress and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Congress leader and five-time chief minister Virbhadra Singh cast vote at his native place in Rampur town, around 120 km from here, while Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal exercised his franchise in Samirpur, now part of Bhoranj constituency.

Virbhadra Singh is contesting the elections from Shimla (rural) and Dhumal from Hamirpur constituency.

Union Commerce Minister Anand Sharma also cast vote in the state capital.

"We will form the government. This is my belief," Sharma told reporters after casting his ballot.

Taking a jibe at the BJP over its promise of giving induction stove to every household in the state if the party returned to power, Sharma said: "Who will pay for buying utensils required for induction stove? Will the BJP pay this? It is just misguiding the voters."

Poll officials said Shyam Saran, 95, from Kalpa in Kinnaur district, the oldest voter in the state also cast his vote.

Saran was among the first to vote after the country's independence in the 1951 general elections.

The votes will be counted on 20 December.

In 2007, the BJP won 41 seats, the Congress 23, the BSP one and Independents three.

The lone BSP legislator later joined the BJP.

At that time, the poll percentage was 71.61 percent: men 68.36 percent and women 74.01 percent.

IANS

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