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Nitesh Kumar Sahoo

Various political parties have kicked off campaigning as the bugle has been blown for the three-tier Panchayat elections in Odisha. 

However, switching over from the traditional electioneering ways to digital mode has proven tough at a time when most of the rural areas still are experiencing bad network coverage. Even there are several places with no mobile towers at all. 

Apart from that, many people don't own a smartphone nor do they have the capacity to recharge. 

Candidates in the remote areas of districts like Kalahandi, Kandhamal, Malkangiri and Mayurbhanj are experiencing huge troubles in digital campaigning and are focusing on door-to-door campaigns instead with a handful of supporters. Such conditions have turned out to be a reason of deep concern for the candidates as they are unable to reach out to the voters.

"We are facing a lot of troubles while abiding by the rules of digital campaign in virtual mode. This area lies on the foothills with a bad network coverage. Digital campaign is not possible over here," said Chakradhar Singh, a Sarpanch aspirant in Mayurbhanj district.

Meanwhile, a Zilla Parishad candidate from Kalyansinghpur, Santosh Behera said, "With such rules and conditions, how can we reach up to the voters and campaign? When there is no network coverage, how can we virtually campaign? We are worried over such issues."

Mobile tower has been an elongated issue in the rural areas of the State. For instance, Kalahandi district's Lanjigad MLA Pradip Disari failed to install a mobile tower before the deadline as promised before the announcement of the Panchayat polls. The irate residents of Bundhpari village erected a mobile tower-like structure and invited him for inauguration which embarrassed the legislature. Even after such an embarrassing situation, no mobile tower has yet been installed which has refrained the candidates from carrying out virtual campaigning. 

A resident of Mali Jubang said, "Network coverage is a must in this area. We can't access any virtual campaign carried out by the candidates." 

Recently, over failure in installing a mobile tower, residents of five Panchayats of Tileibani Block in Deogarh district boycotted polls and are firm over their decision. Even, no one has filed nominations from these Blocks for the upcoming elections. Further, no one will be participating in the fresh nomination filing process scheduled to be held on Saturday. 

Worried over such a decision of the residents, the District administration is discussing with them and has given words to resolve the issue soon. 

"No one filed nomination in the first phase, after which a new date was issued. Residents from the five Panchayats have decided that we won't file nomination until a mobile tower is installed," said a local resident. 

As per government data, telecommunication services in Kandhamal district is unreachable. As many as 1094 villages in the district have no network coverage. Same is the situation at 966 villages in Rayagada, 520 villages in Koraput, 516 villages in Kalahandi and 306 villages in Malkangiri districts. 

As per the State government data, only 36% children are attending online classes. 

Meanwhile, Minister for Energy, Industry and MSME Dibya Sankar Mishra said, "During the visit of the Union Railway Minister, we had proposed for mobile tower installations and 36 of those have been approved. We will ensure to set up communication towers in remote areas."

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