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Exercise to ferry polling personnel in helicopters begins amid tight security in Naxalite-hit Bastar

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BIJAPUR/SUKMA, April 16: With tight security in place, the authorities on Tuesday kicked off an exercise to ferry polling personnel in helicopters in Chhattisgarh’s Naxalite-hit Bastar Lok Sabha constituency, where voting will take place in the first phase of the elections on April 19.

The authorities have started dispatching electronic voting machines (EVMs) and polling parties to booths in sensitive areas of Bijapur and Sukma districts, a senior official said.

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Located in the southern part of the Bastar Lok Sabha constituency, Bijapur and Sukma districts have reported multiple incidents of Naxalite attacks on security personnel during elections in the past.

A total of 245 polling booths have been set up for general elections in Bijapur, of which 99 booths in the interior areas have been relocated (to safer places), Bijapur collector Anurag Pandey said.

Around 76 polling parties will be ferried to their destinations in helicopters, and the exercise began on Tuesday from the Bijapur district headquarters, three days before the polling, he said.

The teams that reach their destinations ahead of the polling day will stay in the nearest camp of security forces, he said.

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All preparations have been made to ensure peaceful polling, Pandey said.

Talking about the security arrangements, Bijapur Superintendent of Police Jitendra Yadav said sufficient security personnel were deployed for the elections in the district, and search and area domination operations have been intensified.

Polling parties were also being dispatched to the neighbouring Sukma district, another official said.

At least 27 polling teams and EVMS will be transported in choppers on Tuesday from Sukma district headquarters, he said.

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A total of 255 polling booths have been set up in Sukma district, and polling parties for 42 booths will be shifted in choppers, Sukma collector Haris S said.

At least 42 have been relocated (to safer places) in remote areas of the district, he added.

Elections to 11 Lok Sabha seats in Chhattisgarh will be held in three phases on April 19, April 26 and May 7, and votes will be counted on June 4.

Bastar is the only Lok Sabha constituency to go to polls in the first phase on April 19, while Mahasamund, Rajnandgaon and Kanker (ST), which also have Naxalite presence in some pockets, will vote on April 26.

The remaining seven seats — Raipur, Durg, Bilaspur, Raigarh (ST), Korba, Janjgir-Champa (SC) and Surguja (ST) — will go to polls in the last phase of the elections on May 7.

Earlier, an officer from the office of the chief electoral officer in Raipur had said helicopters will ferry polling personnel for 167 polling booths in Lok Sabha constituencies of Bastar (ST), Kanker (ST) and Mahasamund considering the Maoist threat and geographical location.

As per the plan, 919 polling personnel will be sent to 156 polling stations by helicopters in Bastar, and 84 personnel to nine booths in Kanker seat and two in the Gariaband area of Mahasamund seat, he said.

During the assembly elections last year, the Indian Air Force (IAF) conducted 404 sorties with eight MI-17 choppers for six days, facilitating the deployment and evacuation of 853 polling team members in five districts of Bastar division   Sukma, Bijapur, Kanker, Dantewada and Narayanpur. (PTI)




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