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Bihar's 13 ready for date with poll

By Archana Masih
Last updated on: April 16, 2009 12:48 IST
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Thirteen of the 40 constituencies in Bihar go to the polls on Thursday, and tough security and administrative measures are being taken to conduct the vast poll exercise.

Image: Local government staff at an election call centre in Chhapra, Saran constituency

Saran is the most high-profile seat in the first phase because of its candidate Laloo Prasad Yadav, the Union railways minister who is seeking re-election. The 2004 election in Saran was cancelled due to violence and malpractices, and a repoll ordered.

This year, the election in Saran is being conducted by District Magistrate Dr B Rajendra, who was transferred to Chhapra on March 20, less than a month ado. Local residents say he was sent here from Patna primarily for the election.

"We have adopted strategies that are different from the previous election. A vulnerability mapping has been done, communication with the booths has been enhanced and sector officers vested with magisterial powers will monitor the booths," says the 42-year-old, 1995 batch Bihar cadre IAS officer who has conducted 15 local, state and parliamentary elections during his 14-year tenure in the civil service.

Vulnerable villages and voters have been identified and those responsible for intimidating voters have also been identified. 30 dubious individuals have been externed from the district to ensure law and order.

Out of the 2,151 polling booths in the constituency, 50 to 60 per cent are deemed sensitive.

15,000 to 20,000 armed guards from the Central Paramilitary Force, state and district police have been deputed along with 15,000 state government employees for the election in Saran.

An election control room, manned by lady employees, has been set up at the district collectorate in Chhapra to verify the booths and get feedback from locals living in the vicinity of the polling stations.

"We have also sent voter slips to voters with their serial numbers as on the electoral photo roll. This has been done so that the voter feels empowered. This experiment has been done at the district level," says Rajendra, pictured below.

District Magistrate Dr B Rajendra"There is a 3 to 4 tier monitoring system and polling booths will be videographed and digitally photographed," continues Saran's district magistrate.

The district border will be sealed 12 hours before polling begins.

In neighbouring Siwan, where convicted MP Mohammad Shahabuddin's wife Heena Shahab is contesting the election, the district administration has allocated jeeps fitted with loudspeakers that are informing voters that they need not fear and come out and vote.

Flag marches by the CRPF and Central Industrial Ssecurity Force has been undertaken. "15,000 paramilitary forces and 5,000 home guards have been deputed to poll duties," said Bandana Preyashi, Siwan's young district magistrate.

Similarly, flag marches have been conducted in Gopalganj constituency and central paramilitary forces have been deployed in 300 vulnerable booths.

Vehicular traffic will virtually come to a halt on polling day with all vehicles ordered off the roads unless given permission by the administration. Voters are encouraged to walk to polling booths instead. Many shops will remain closed on April 16.

The other prominent constituencies that go to the polls on Thursday are Jehanabad, Buxar, Karakat, Sasaram and Aurangabad.

Photographs: Seema Pant

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Archana Masih