Polling began Wednesday morning in 71 assembly constituencies of Bihar in the first phase of three-phase elections amid tight security and COVID-19 guidelines in place. Of the nearly 2.15 crore electors eligible to exercise the 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.
Guidelines have been issued by the Commission for safe conduct of the electoral exercise in the midst of the raging COVID-19 pandemic. These guidelines include lowering the maximum number of voters for a polling booth from 1,600 to 1,000, staggering of polling hours and extending postal ballot facility for those above 80.
Besides, sanitisation of electronic voting machines, wearing of masks and other protective gear by polling personnel and the availability of thermal scanner, hand sanitiser, soap and water have also to be ensured at polling stations.
The candidates in the fray in the first phase include 952 men and 114 women. As many as 33 of the constituencies going to polls in the first phase have been declared as sensitive or hypersensitive constituencies, the poll panel said. It said 31,371 polling stations have been set up in this phase and as many Electronic Voting Machines and Voter-Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines will be used.
Additional Director General of Police (Headquarters) Jitendra Kumar told PTI that security forces have been deployed in adequate strength at all polling stations and the buildings housing them.
The local police have also been used to supplement the paramilitary forces wherever required, he said, adding the services of home guards will also be taken at polling stations for works like maintaining the queue. He said that as a precautionary measure, all security personnel deployed on poll duty have been given a coronavirus kit which has a face mask, gloves, a face shield and sanitisers.
He said special security arrangements have been made for the Naxal-affected areas. Most of the state's Naxal-hit areas are going to polls in the first phase, he said. The administration will keep an aerial vigil also and one helicopter will be used for the purpose, he said.
Announcing the election schedule for the 243-member assembly on September 25, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora had said that polls will open as usual at 7 am but the voting hour will be extended by one hour until 6 pm, except in the Left Wing Extremism affected areas, so that COVID-19 patients can vote in the last hour of the day.
"Bihar assembly polls will be one of the biggest elections globally to be held during prevailing COVID-19 situation," Arora had said.