50 percent voter turnout in Bengal, landmine injures two (Third Lead)

Kolkata, April 30 (IANS) Two security personnel were injured in a landmine blast triggered by suspected Maoists in West Bengal’s Purulia district even as the state recorded more than 50 percent voter turnout for 14 Lok Sabha seats Thursday.

“The percentage will definitely be over 50 percent. There are long lines of voters still before a large number of booths,” an election official said here. However, the voter turnout was low in most areas where Maoist extremists have a strong presence.

Two Border Security Force (BSF) personnel were injured in a low intensity landmine blast at Balarampur, Home Secretary Ardhendu Sen said.

This incident apart, polling was largely peaceful in nine districts in the northern and Maoist violence-hit western parts of the state despite sporadic disturbances and interruptions in the poll process which ended at 5 p.m., reports said.

Voters young and old lined up at over 21,000 booths in towns and villages stretching from the cool climes of the Darjeeling hills in the north to remote regions of the Purulia plateau and jungle areas of the western districts to pick their MPs from among 134 nominees.

A total of 16 million people were eligible to vote Thursday, the first phase of Lok Sabha elections in the state covering six north Bengal districts – including the troubled Darjeeling – and Maoist-hit Purulia, West Midnapore and Bankura.

Two suspicious boxes found in West Midnapore’s Maoist-dominated Pirakata forest region triggered panic among voters who refused to go to polling stations. Police later found that these contained fire crackers, Kanojia said.

There was a poll boycott in a booth in Salboni of West Midnapore as irate tribals demanded proper recognition of a local script.

To ensure a peaceful and fair election, the Election Commission had deployed nearly 220 companies of central forces across the Lok Sabha constituencies.

In Belpahari in West Midnapore, polling personnel who were kept confined by angry locals throughout the night refused to do election duty, but were later persuaded by the authorities to go to the booths in Chakadoba and Kagmari areas.

Reports from Siliguri said there was a poll boycott in six booths in the plains of Darjeeling district while enthusiastic voter queues were seen in the hills under a thick blanket of fog, a cold wind and intermittent rains.

Fifty percent polling was recorded in the Darjeeling district where Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) heavyweight Jaswant Singh is trying his luck with backing from the pro-Gorkhaland Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM).

The opposition Trinamool Congress demanded repolling in the entire Keshpur assembly segment of Ghatal seat alleging the ruling communists had driven away their polling agents from all the booths and terrorised voters.

Speaking to the media, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee demanded that the state’s Left Front government be sacked for not ensuring free and fair polls.

West Bengal has 42 Lok Sabha seats. While 17 seats will go to polls May 7, voters in 11 constituencies will exercise their franchise May 13.