Pradeep Pattanayak

Even after the conclusion of the Panchayat polls in some parts of the state, the fear among the candidates and their supporters still continues. 

The fear stems from the possibility of tempering with the ballot boxes, now kept in strong rooms in Block headquarters under tight security and CCTV surveillance. 

Doubting something mischief might occur to the ballot boxes, the candidates are having their own security arrangements in place around the strong rooms. 

The strong room in Harichandanpur Block in Keonjhar district is a case in point. 

The ballot boxes are kept on the second floor of a government high school building in Harichandanpur Block headquarters. All the necessary security arrangements are said to be in place. However, the supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seem to be far from being convinced with the security arrangements. Therefore, they are keeping a close eye on the strong room from a ‘mancha’ (raised platform), which has been erected using bamboos and is of the height of the strong room. 

From here, they are mounting 24x7 vigil on the strong room. 

“The strong room is on the second floor. We fear anything may happen with the ballot boxes. In order to keep watch on the strong room, we have constructed a ‘mancha’ with bamboos from where we are guarding the room in shifts,” said a party supporter, adding that they had constructed the mancha with prior permission from the Block Development Officer and the police.

The same pictures can be seen at the strong rooms in Rangeilunda Block in Ganjam district and Mahanga Block in Cuttack district. Supporters of the candidates, mostly those backed by the BJP and Congress, are guarding the strong rooms day in and day out. 

“Four of our teams are keeping a watchful eye on the strong room in shifts. Since our opponents belong to the ruling party, we fear they may tamper with the boxes,” said one of the ‘guards’. 

The fear was so intense that BJP’s Zilla Parishad candidate Sasanka Sekhar Sahani even urged the State Election Commission to step up the security arrangements at the strong room set up at Ambashala Nodal School in Balikuda Block in Jagatsinghpur district. “There are CCTV cameras. What I want is access to all the footages captured in the cameras,” said Sahani. 

When contacted, Balikuda BDO Kalyan Sourav Dash said following the direction of the SEC, the strong room has been set up at the counting centre and entry has been strictly prohibited to the inner perimeter of the strong room. 

The fourth phase of the Panchayat election will be held in 64 Blocks of 27 districts on February 22 (Tuesday). Voting will take place in 163 Zilla Parishads and 1,254 Panchayats coming under them (ZPs). While 667 Zilla Parishad candidates are in fray, over 51,31,000 voters will exercise their franchise. 

Of the total 17,089 booths set up for the polling, 2,563 have been identified as sensitive. Regarding the security arrangements, State Election Commission Secretary Rabindranath Sahu said all necessary precautions were in place. 

“The concerned district administrations have been directed to take adequate steps for maintaining law and order situation,” Sahu informed.  

Informing about the security arrangements, Bolangir district Collector Chanchal Rana said three Blocks--Bolangir, Gudvela and Deogaon--will go to poll on Tuesday. “We have taken all necessary steps to avoid any law and order situation,” said Rana. 

Meanwhile, the Odisha Police issued a press note informing about the police deployment for free and fair elections. 

“257 platoons force, 1,473 mobile patrolling parties along with district police officers/men have been deployed all over the state for smooth conduct of fourth phase of elections,” it read. 

Police have arrested 43 persons in Jajpur district, nine in Dhenkanal district, six in Jagatsinghpur district and 24 in Puri district in connection with poll disruption incidents during the first three phases of Panchayat elections, it also stated