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43 per cent turnout for Delhi polls

OVER TO THE POLLS: Women wait for their turn at a polling booth in New Delhi on Thursday. - PHOTO: SANDEEP SAXENA  

Staff Reporter

Election process by and large incident-free; stray violence in two wards

NEW DELHI: Elections to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi registered a modest turnout of just about 43 per cent on Thursday even as the poll process by and large was incident-free. Incidents of violence in two wards and problems in operating electronic voting machines (EVMs) forced the Delhi State Election Commission to order re-poll at 10 booths on Friday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

"Polling by and large remained peaceful and as per initial estimates the turn-out has been put at 43 per cent. Though polling began on a sluggish note in the morning, it picked up momentum during the day. All those who entered the booth premises by 5 p.m. were allowed to cast their votes," said Delhi State Election Commissioner S. P. Marwah at a press conference soon after the completion of the exercise.

The highest polling percentage -- 71 per cent -- was recorded at Durgapuri (Ward No. 245) and the lowest -- 32 per cent -- at R.K. Puram (Ward No.167).

Pointing out that re-poll had been ordered in the MCD elections for the first time, Mr. Marwah said at one polling station (No.22) in Rana Pratap Bagh (Ward No.70) the presiding officer erroneously pressed the "close" button in the EVM while polling was still on. "When we checked, the EVM showed that only three votes had been cast as against 300 people who had exercised their franchise. As a result, we have ordered a re-poll there. Penal action will be taken against erring poll officials," he added.

At nine other polling stations falling under four wards, re-poll has been ordered after the polling process was affected due to violence and clashes among supporters of rival candidates. "Re-polling has been ordered in polling station Nos.14, 14-A, 15, 16 and 17 of Hastsal (Ward No.122); at polling stations Nos.1, 1-A and 4-A of Nithari (Ward No.34) and at polling station No.20 of Pratap Vihar (Ward No. 33). At these polling booths, agents and supporters of some candidates smashed EVMs, while at some booths the police had to enter to control unruly elements. All this disturbed the polling process at these booths," Mr. Marwah added.

Stating that at least six EVMs were destroyed in the clashes, Mr. Marwah said initially EVMs did not work at about 40 polling stations. "It took our technical staff 30 to 90 minutes to rectify the technical snags. Elsewhere, EVMs worked smoothly, he added.

Mr. Marwah said Ramesh Pandit, sitting Congress Councillor from Preet Vihar who is contesting from Ghondli (Ward No.231), was arrested after he allegedly misbehaved with a presiding officer at one of the booths in his constituency.

Speaking about the low voter turnout, Mr. Marwah said: "I am surprised that the poll percentage remained below our expectations. Keeping in mind the delimitation process that has led to an increase in the number of municipal wards to 272 from 134 and the participation of a large number of candidates including those from 14 State political parties, we were hoping that more people would vote this time."

In the last MCD elections held in 2002, the polling percentage was 45 per cent.

Counting of votes will be taken up on Saturday and the results are expected to be out by afternoon.