Shimla: Despite his failing vision and aching knees, India's first voter Shyam Saran Negi reached his polling booth in Himachal Pradesh's Kinnaur to exercise his franchise in the state's panchayat elections, for which over 70 per cent turnout was recorded on Sunday.
In the first round of the three-phase elections, 1,227 panchayats went to the polls on Sunday. The remaining two phases are slated to be held on January 19 and 21. The state has 3,615 gram panchayats.
At 103, Negi cast his vote at the Kalpa polling booth, where he was given a warm welcome by laying a red carpet by the district administration.
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Deputy Commissioner Hemraj Bairwa honoured Negi with a Kinnauri 'topi' and shawl. The DC said young voters should get inspiration from Negi, who turned up to cast his vote despite bad health.
In his message to people, Negi said voters should participate in the election process to elect honest and capable candidates.
Negi, who had made a special appearance in a Hindi film, Sanam Re , said he never missed casting his vote, be it panchayat, assembly or the Lok Sabha polls.
Believed to the first voter in the 1952 General Election, Negi was born on July 1, 1917 and retired as a schoolteacher, as per official records.
Remembering how he became the country's first voter, Negi had earlier said the India's first General Election was held in February 1952 but in tribal areas of the state, the voting took place five months in advance on October 23, 1951 due to fears of inclement weather rendering the exercise impossible during winter.
I was a schoolteacher then and had been put on election duty. Due to it, I reached my polling booth at the Kalpa primary school in Kinnaur at 7 am to cast my vote. I was the first one to reach there and vote, he had said.
Meanwhile, Electoral Officer Sanjeev Mahajan said a voter turnout of over 70 per cent was recorded in the first round.
Over 63 per cent voters of two panchayats in Kaza block in Lahaul-Spiti braved extreme cold weather conditions at a temperature of minus seven degrees Celsius to cast their vote, a district official said.
A voter turnout of 76 per cent was recorded in Hamirpur district.
Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur and his family members cast their votes at Government Primary School at Kurani in Murhag panchayat of Mandi district.
State Congress president Kuldeep Singh Rathour and his wife Tripta Rathour voted at Medhavani village in Kumarsain tehsil of Shimla.
The Himachal Pradesh Election Commission also wrote to the Kangra administration, ordering an inquiry into the omission of former state minister Sudhir Sharma's name from the electoral rolls for the panchayat polls.
In a letter to the Kangra deputy commissioner, the election commission secretary sought to know how the Congress leader's name was omitted from the electoral rolls of Rakkar panchayat falling under the Dharamshala development block.
Last week, the former state urban development minister had alleged that names of hundreds of voters are missing from the electoral rolls in almost every panchayat in the state.
He termed it a "well thought-out conspiracy", claiming most voters whose names are missing believe in the Congress ideology.
The counting of votes for ward members, deputy village heads and village heads will take place soon after voting. However, the counting for members of panchayat samitis and zila parishads will be conducted on January 22.
The candidates are contesting elections as independents and not on a party symbol.
(With PTI Inputs)