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C'garh polls: 23 pc voter turnout till noon
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   11/12/2018 1:22:00 PM

Raipur, Nov 12 (PTI)
Around 23 per cent voter turnout was recorded till 12.30 pm in 18 Assembly constituencies in the first phase of Chhattisgarh elections on Monday, a poll official said.

An improvised explosive device (IED) was detonated early morning in Dantewada district by Naxals, who had called for a boycott of the polls, police said.

Voting in nine seats of Bastar division and one seat in Rajnandgaon district began at 7 am while in the other eight seats, it started at 8 am.

"Around 23 per cent polling has been registered till 12.30 pm. Voting is going on smoothly and peacefully," the poll official said.

Polling began on a slow note in many constituencies and gradually picked up momentum, he added.

As many as 31 electronic voting machines (EVMs) and 51 voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) machines were replaced due to technical snags, he said.

A thick security blanket, comprising over 1.25 lakh police and paramilitary personnel, was thrown across the 18 constituencies as they fall under the Naxal-hit areas of Bastar, Kanker, Sukma, Bijapur, Dantewada, Narayanpur, Kondagaon and Rajnandgaon districts.

Sukma's Superintendent of Police Abhishek Meena said voters from interior areas in the district were coming out to exercise their right to franchise, defying the Naxals' call for election boycott.

In 'Bhejji 2' and Gorkha polling booths, zero voting was recorded in the 2013 polls, but this time 11 and 20 voters respectively had voted in the initial hours, he said.

In 'Bhejji 1' polling station, where last time only one vote was cast, 72 people had voted so far this time, Meena said.

Polling in 10 constituencies -- Mohla-Manpur, Antagarh, Bhanupratappur, Kanker, Keshkal, Kondagaon, Narayanpur, Dantewada, Bijapur and Konta -- began at 7 am and would conclude at 3 pm, amid the threat by Naxals.

In the other eight constituencies -- Khairgarh, Dongargarh, Rajnandgaon, Dongargaon, Khujji, Bastar, Jagdalpur and Chitrakot -- voting began at 8 am and would end at 5 pm.

In the first phase, 190 candidates were in the fray and as many as 4,336 polling booths were set up and 19,079 polling personnel were deployed there.

Among the prominent candidates were Chief Minister Raman Singh, state ministers Kedar Kashyap (Narayanpur) and Mahesh Gagda (Bijpaur), and Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) Kanker Lok Sabha MP Vikram Usendi (Antagarh).

Nine sitting Congress MLAs -- Manoj Singh Mandavi (Bhanupratappur), Mohan Lal Markam (Kondagaon), Lakheshwar Baghel (Bastar), Deepak Kumar Baij (Chitrakot), Devati Karma (Dantewada), Kawasi Lakhma (Konta), Girwar Janghel (Khairagarh), Santram Netam (Keshkal) and Daleshwar Sahu (Dongargaon) -- were also contesting.

This time, the coalition between Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), former chief minister Ajit Jogi's JCC(J) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) had added another dimension to the electoral politics of Chhattisgarh.

Of the 18 seats going to polling in the first phase, 12 were reserved for Scheduled Tribes (STs) and one was for Scheduled Caste (SC) category.

The second phase of polling in 72 seats, out of the 90-member Assembly, would be held on November 20 and counting of votes would take place on December 11.