Odishatv Bureau

Bhubaneswar: An estimated 80.92 per cent of voters today exercised their franchise in the by-election to the Bijepur Assembly seat that passed off peacefully.

"Around 80.92 per cent (provisional) of the electorate cast their votes in the bypoll," Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Odisha Surendra Kumar said.

Around 81.86 per cent polling had been recorded in Bijepur Assembly segment in the 2014 election, Kumar said.

Stating that the polling remained "completely peaceful," the CEO said no untoward incident was reported, even in the five Naxal-affected polling stations in the Assembly segment, located in Bargarh district.

Barring some interruptions due to technical snags in Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines, polling in the segment was peaceful, official sources said.

Kumar said that the presiding officer of booth No.193 was placed under suspension with immediate effect, after he was found trying to influence voters in favour of a particular candidate.

Another officer replaced the suspended officer, identified as Bahadur Sahu, headmaster of a school in Bheden block.

Arrangements have been made to keep the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) under tight security after polling was held from 8 am to 5 pm, he said.

Counting of votes would be undertaken on February 28.

While the electoral fate of a total of 13 candidates were sealed in the EVMs, it appeared to be a triangular contest among nominees of the ruling BJD, the Congress and the BJP.

BJD candidate Rita Sahu said the party has bigger support base due to popularity of party president Naveen Patnaik and late husband Subal Sahoo whose death necessitated the bypoll.

On the other hand, BJP candidate Ashok Panigrahi emphatically stated, “I will win the bypoll with a margin of more than 30,000 votes.”

Pranay Sahu, Congress candidate, said, “People are ready to fight against the issues and will vote for candidates who will address their problems.”

Elaborate security arrangements were made for the by-election, especially in the wake of violence in and around the area, officials said.

As per sources, around 2.21 lakh voters were eligible to exercise their franchise in 281 polling booths set up for the by-poll, as against 270 booths during the Assembly polls in 2014.

Of the 281 booths, 155 were identified as critical.

"We have 12 dedicated squads to ensure free and fair polling in all the places," the CEO said.

A total of five companies (500 personnel) of Central Paramilitary Force along with one company (85 personnel) of Odisha Swift Action Force have been deployed on poll duty, sources said.

In addition, 40 platoons (1,200 personnel) of state armed police have been pressed into service.

(With agency inputs)