Polling in seven Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) including Warangal and Khammam municipal corporations got underway on Friday morning. On the direction of Telangana High Court, State Election Commission (SEC) took various measures to ensure strict adherence to COVID-19 guidelines during the polling.
Polling, which has been largely peaceful so far, began at 7 am across all the ULBs and will continue till 5pm. Authorities from the respective districts have tried to ensure voters adhere to COVID-19 protocol, such as masking and physical distancing.
Voters lined up since morning to cast their votes in Greater Warangal and Khammam municipal corporations and five municipalities - Siddipet, Jadcherla, Atchampet Kothur and Nakrekal.
Polling was also being held for the by-elections to four wards in four municipalities and one ward in Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC).
A total of 11,59,112 voters including 5,84,963 women are eligible to cast their votes in these elections. As many as 1,307 candidates including 480 independents are in the fray in two corporations and five municipalities. Fourteen candidates are testing their political fortunes in four wards while five candidates are in fray in Lingojiguda ward in GHMC. The poll authorities have set up 1,539 polling stations and deployed 9,809 polling personnel for smooth conduct of elections.
According to the State Election Commission (SEC), 13.37% voters cast their votes in the first two hours in seven ULBs. Kothur municipality recorded highest turnout of 19.22% cent while Greater Warangal Municipal Corporation and Achampet municipality saw 11% polling.
Wearing of face mask has been made compulsory to cast the votes. The authorities also made arrangements to ensure physical distancing in the queues outside polling stations. Sanitizers have been made available at the entry of polling stations.
To ensure compliance of COVID-19 protocol, the authorities have procured 28,810 masks (two masks per person), 14,505 face shields, 22,910 hand gloves (two pairs per person, 18,455 bottles of hand sanitizer and 22,230 rings marked for queues of voters at polling stations indicating physical distancing.
Sanitisation of polling booths, use of Arogyasethu app by all persons involved in elections,
distribution of kits containing one mask, sanitizer and face shield to every polling personnel are among the other guidelines being followed.
Reports in regional media suggest that people are coming to vote by wearing masks in several places. However, a report in NTV showed huge crowds outside a polling booth at Warangal city, with physical distance not being enforced by authorities.
The SEC has gone ahead with the conduct of the elections despite demands by the opposition parties to postpone them in view of the surge in COVID-19 cases. Opposition Congress and BJP have even sought intervention by Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan to stop the poll process as this could further spread the pandemic.
However, the SEC assured that it is taking all necessary measures to check the spread of Covid during the polling. The SEC was also rapped by the High Court after political parties held mass campaign rallies, flouting COVID-19 safety protocols.
A division bench of Chief Justice Hima Kohli and Justice B Vijaysen Reddy rhetorically asked the SEC if the sky would fall if the elections were postponed. According to a report in DC, the HC bench observed, "At the time of the serious surge in COVID-19 cases in the state, you rushed to conduct elections as if the sky will otherwise fall down. This was not a calibrated decision, whatever the reasons be."
"How can the SEC justify conducting the polls when people are losing lives to Covid?" asked a bench of Chief Justice Hima Kohli and Justice B. Vijaysen Reddy. The court observed that the SEC could have exercised its powers to defer the polls.
With IANS inputs