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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Himachal: Poll officers traverse tough terrains to make each vote count

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SHIMLA, May 15: Each vote counts, and the truism is not lost on the polling officers, some of whom take the long precarious road to bring democracy to the far-flung and frugally populated areas, such as Bara Bhangal of Himachal Pradesh, which has all of 63 voters.

The journey involves trekking for two days on a perilous mountain path, braving several landslide-prone stretches, and avoiding falling into the imperious Ravi River, which flanks the road.

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Located in Kangra district, Bara Bhangal has little to offer in way of comfort in everyday life, and conducting elections should not be an exception.

Just so any weather caprice does not thwart the polling, the election office sends two teams via two different routes to Bara Bhangal – one team is airdropped in the area in Baijnath and the other treks for two days on foot.

Another area which tests the mettle of polling officers is Sat Kuthera of Fatehpur, where it takes a 5.5 km boat ride to reach the polling station.

Dr Surjit Saroch, a polling officer who was part of a team in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, told PTI how he took journey to Bara Bhangal five years ago.

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“Starting from Chamba side, we commenced our journey on foot from Naya Gram and reached Dharari, the only village en route to Bara Bhangal, and stayed in a small two-room kachha house in the village,” he said.

The team, which included porters and mules, walked for two days on the hazardous narrow footpath with a bellowing Ravi River flowing beneath and shooting stones rolling down from the hilltop, Saroch recalled.

Rakesh Chandel, the polling officer who supervised the assembly polls in Bara Bhangal in 2022, said he felt he had left the world behind when he reached the area.

“With solar panels being the only mode of electricity and no communication devices except the satellite phone given to the polling officer, we felt we were cut off from the rest of the world,” he said.

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“We were fortunate to be airdropped to Bara Bhangal but flying across the Dhauladhar mountain range amid clouds and against strong winds was a nerve-racking experience,” he added.

Poll officer Rajesh Kumar recalled that there was no light and they had to carry inverters/generators on a boat to Sat Kuthera, which has around 100 voters.

“There was no school there and we stayed at a temple and came back the third day,” Kumar, one of the members of the polling party which conducted voting in the area in the 2022 assembly polls, said.

The 63 voters of Bara Bhangal have been given the option to vote in the area or at a polling station in Bir.

Reaching Bara Bhangal will not be easy this year considering the landslides and washing away of bridges last monsoon.

According to state Chief Electoral Officer Maneesh Garg, parts of Lahaul and Spiti and Kinnaur, Pangi and Bharmaur in Chamba, and Dodra Kwar in Shimla district remain cut off due to snowfall, which takes place throughout May, and this is one of the reasons the polling in the state is being held in the last phase on June 1.

In 2019, the voting for Lok Sabha polls was held in the last phase on May 19. (PTI)








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