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Conducting Bihar Assembly Polls Amid Pandemic 'Leap of Faith' for Election Commission: CEC Sunil Arora

File photo of CEC Sunil Arora.

File photo of CEC Sunil Arora.

In a break from the past, the CEC attended the poll panel briefing here on voter turnout in the first phase of the Bihar Assembly elections held on Wednesday. Usually, the briefing is held by the deputy election commissioners concerned.

New Delhi: Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora on Wednesday said the Election Commission was "discouraged" from holding the Bihar assembly polls amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but the poll panel was of the view that carrying out the electoral exercise was a "leap of faith and not a leap in the dark". In a break from the past, the CEC attended the poll panel briefing here on voter turnout in the first phase of the Bihar Assembly elections held on Wednesday. Usually, the briefing is held by the deputy election commissioners concerned.

The chief election commissioner and fellow election commissioners announce schedule for the Lok Sabha and assembly polls. In his opening remarks, Arora said, "We (EC) were, in a way I would say, were also discouraged as to why elections are being held amid Covid. But you would recall I had said on September 25 (when Bihar poll schedule was announced) that for EC, this poll is a leap of faith and not leap in the dark." He, however, did not say who had discouraged the poll watchdog. Some opposition parties had urged the poll panel to postpone the elections due to the pandemic.

Arora said the voter turnout in phase one of the Bihar assembly elections was 52.24 per cent till 5 pm. Another senior poll panel official later said the "projected" turnout was expected to be more than that in the 2015 assembly polls and the Lok Sabha elections. He said of the 16 districts which went to polls in this phase, 12 were left-wing extremism (LWE) affected.

"Out of the 12, four are considered as extreme left-wing affected," he said, while expressing happiness at the smooth conduct of the polling exercise. Based on the terrain and inputs provided by the district authorities, poll timings were shorter in the LWE districts. In the 2015 assembly polls, the voter turnout in phase one was 54.94 per cent, while in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the corresponding figure was 53.54 per cent, the CEC said.

Election Commission Secretary General Umesh Sinha told reporters that the "projected" voter turnout was expected to be more than the last assembly and Lok Sabha polls. A total of 71 assembly constituencies of Bihar went to polls on Wednesday in the first of the three-phase elections amid tight security and with COVID-19 guidelines in place.

Polling began at 7 am and ended at 6 pm. The poll timing was increased by an hour to allow those having temperature and those tested positive for coronavirus cast their vote in the last hour. Of the nearly 2.15 crore electorate eligible to exercise their franchise, 1.12 crore are male, 1.01 crore female and 599 are categorised as third gender, according to data provided by the Election Commission.

Deputy Election Commissioner in charge of EVMs said the functioning of electronic voting machines was "very satisfactory". He also said 0.22 per cent of the total 41,689 ballot units, 0.25 per cent of the total 31,371 control units and 1.28 per cent of the total 31,371 paper trail machines were replaced. In 12 polling stations of Jamui, the poll timing was increased by one hour due to delay in replacing the faulty machines, he said.

One control unit and at least one ballot unit makes for one EVM. Deputy Election Commissioner in charge of Bihar, Chandra Bhushan Kumar said overall seizures in Bihar stand at Rs 46.11 crore, including foreign currency worth Rs 89.30 lakh.

In the first phase of the polls which concluded on Wednesday evening, the seizures were to the tune of Rs 10.18 crore. In 2015 assembly pols, the seizures stood at Rs 23.81 crore, while in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the seizures in the state were to the tune of Rs 16.68 crore, he said.


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