West Bengal polls 2021: Sporadic violence in Birbhum, Kolkata mars final phase; 76.07% turnout till 6 pm
Long queues were seen outside most polling booths since early morning, raising concern over the spread of COVID-19, even as the EC assured that all precautionary measures are in place
Stray incidents of violence marred the eighth and final phase of the mammoth West Bengal Assembly election that was conducted on Thursday, 29 April in 35 constituencies across the Murshidabad, Birbhum, North Kolkata, and Malda districts.
As of 6 pm, the overall voter turnout in the state was 76.07 percent, as per the preliminary report on the Election Commission's Voter Turnout app. Over 84.77 lakh voters exercised their franchise in 11,860 polling stations in the four districts.
— CEO West Bengal (@CEOWestBengal) April 29, 2021
One person was killed and two others were injured hours after polling began in the Murshidabad district. The CPM claimed that its party worker Kader Mondal was killed after TMC candidate Jafikul Islam "ran his car over them", PTI reported.
However, the TMC candidate from the Domkal seat denied the allegation and said that he was not in the area at the time of the accident.
The two CPM workers injured were identified as Asim Al Mamoon and Lal Chand Mondal. Taking cognisance of the death, West Bengal chief election officer (CEO) Aariz Aftab sought a report from the district authorities on the matter.
Violence was also reported from the restive Birbhum district, with BJP candidate Tarakeshwar Saha allegedly suffering injuries after his vehicle was ransacked. Saha accused TMC cadres of attacking him, but the allegation was dubbed as "baseless" by local leaders of the state's ruling party.
Birbhum is reportedly the "fortress" of TMC district president Anubrata Mondal. Ahead of polling day, the Election Commission had put Mondal under strict surveillance because the poll panel received "several complaints against him", PTI reported.
Several constituencies in Kolkata too witnessed clashes while polling was underway on Thursday.
In the Jorasanko constituency, BJP candidate Meena Devi Purohit alleged that crude bombs were thrown at her vehicle while she was touring polling booths.
However, local EC authorities were later quoted by PTI as saying that the disturbance was caused by firecrackers and not crude bombs. "Preliminary probe revealed that banned firecrackers were set off and not bombs," the official at the Chief Electoral Officer's office said.
Those behind the incident are being identified and a hunt is on to nab them, he added.
The incident, which happened on Central Avenue in the heart of the city soon after polling began in the area, triggered panic among the people on Thursday morning.
Soon after the incident, BJP's Purohit alleged that crude bombs were hurled at her vehicle. "Bombs were hurled at my car but I am not scared. I will definitely visit the booths. They tried to kill me and it is a ploy to scare the voters," Purohit alleged.
Additionally, clashes broke out between two groups of people in Kolkata's Beliaghata area, after which the police resorted to lathicharge to disperse them. Two people, who identified themselves as BJP activists, reportedly alleged that they were roughed up by TMC workers during the melee.
In Kolkata's Maniktala constituency, BJP candidate Kalyan Choubey was surrounded by a group of people during his visit to the polling booths. Choubey claimed "TMC-backed anti-socials" tried to create disturbances "so that they could rig the polls".
#WATCH | TMC supporters gherao car of BJP candidate Kalyan Chaubey in Maniktala, North Kolkata. He says, "Our polling agent was sitting inside when a 50-yr-old woman came to vote instead of a 31-yr-old woman. When the agent objected she was scolded. This is hooliganism of TMC." pic.twitter.com/2aTzFdWevc
— ANI (@ANI) April 29, 2021
TMC Maniktala candidate Sadhan Pande, however, alleged agents of his party were beaten up by the BJP cadres in several booths.
Long queues were seen outside most polling booths since early morning, raising concern over the spread of COVID-19 , even as the Election Commission assured that all precautionary measures are in place.
West Bengal registered its highest single-day spike of 17,207 COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, while 77 more people succumbed to the disease.
Over 84.77 lakh voters will decide the political fate of 283 candidates in this phase.
Security measures have been heightened in view of the violence in the previous phases, an EC official said. The EC also used drone Surveillance at the Collin Institute under the 162 Chowrangee Assembly Constituency of North Kolkata Election District.
Drone Surveillance at Collin Institute under 162 Chowrangee Assembly Constituency of North Kolkata Election District.#WestBengalElections2021@ECISVEEP @SpokespersonECI @rajivkumarec @PIBKolkata pic.twitter.com/yy2a5XJZ44
— CEO West Bengal (@CEOWestBengal) April 29, 2021
The poll panel has deployed 641 companies of central forces in the final phase to ensure fair voting. Security measures were tightened on Thursday in view of the violence in the previous phases, particularly the death of five people in Cooch Behar in the fourth round of polling on 10 April, an election official told PTI.
Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and newly-joined BJP leader Mithun Chakraborty were among the political leaders who cast their vote on Thursday.
The eight-phase elections to the 294-member West Bengal assembly began on 27 March. Votes will be counted on Sunday.
Exit polls for the Assembly election will be released at 7.30 pm.
TMC raises 'inadequacies' in counting process
Trinamool Congress MP Saugata Roy said the party has submitted a memorandum to the Election Commission, which highlights the "inadequacies" in its direction for counting of votes on 2 May. The memorandum highlighted the lack of a provision that seeks the submission of negative RT-PCR test reports by polling officers and CAPF personnel.
Trinamool Congress writes to Election Commission of India regarding 'inadequacies' in its direction for counting of votes on May 2; says no provision has been made for submission of negative RT-PCR test by polling officers and CAPF personnel https://t.co/7UpL6lQiAO pic.twitter.com/hQt3HtrBGZ
— ANI (@ANI) April 29, 2021
"The Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) said the arrangements are being made to have testing for everybody, but he has no instructions have been issued as far as central forces are concerned," Roy said.
The TMC's letter came a day after the EC announced that candidates or their agents will not be allowed inside counting halls without a negative COVID-19 report.
In its latest guidelines issued on Wednesday for the counting of votes for Assembly polls in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory of Puducherry on 2 May, the EC said that candidates or their agents will not be allowed inside counting halls without a negative coronavirus report or without having taken both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine within 48 hours of the start of counting.
Issued amid spiralling coronavirus cases in the country, the guidelines bar public gatherings outside venues during the counting process, but allow candidates to name a fresh agent if the first one tests positive for COVID-19 .
"The directions mandate submission of a negative test report of COVID-19 of election agent, counting agent and/or candidate prior to such election agent, counting agent and/or candidate being permitted to enter the counting hall. However, surprisingly no such provision has been made for submission of negative test report of COVID-19 by polling officers present in the counting halls," the TMC said in its letter.
"Further, 23,000-24,000 Central Armed Police Forces' personnel will be deployed outside the counting hall(s) on 2 May, 2021. Shockingly, there is an absence of any provision in the directions for use of PPE kits and submission of negative test report of COVID-19 by such CAPF personnel thereby endangering their health and life," it said.
The party further accused the poll panel of being "oblivious" to the safety of life of the CAPF personnel.
With inputs from PTI
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