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To avoid Maoists, poll staff with EVMs walk 15 km through Odisha forest

Barely a week after 36 polling officials in Maoist affected Malkangiri district walked 15 km to escape an ambush laid by the red rebels, 11 polling officials in Kandhamal district walked a similar distance carrying EVMs and VVPAT machines.

After conducting successful polls in booth no. 12 of Barahala village under Phiringia tehsil of Kandhamal district on April 11, the polling team was readying itself to walk 15 kilometers through the forested route when they were told of the trap that awaited them.

Chopped trees were placed strategically on the road, a tell-tale sign of ambush.

A day before Sanjukta Digal, a woman Gram Rozgar Sevak, who was polling supervisor, had been shot dead by Maoists near Barahala village.

Since going back was not an option, the polling party decided to hide in the jungle till help arrived about 16 hours later.

Early next morning, the team began its journey after 23 CRPF jawans arrived to accompany them to a nearby paramilitary camp. With the jawans throwing a security ring around them, the polling officials then walked 15 km before they reached the Balandapada police outpost.

“We had just biscuits and water for dinner. At night, it rained and we got drenched as well,” said the leader of the polling team, Sudhanshu Meher.

Additional Director General of Police (law and order) Sanjeeb Panda said there was little choice available for the polling officials in view of the killing of a polling supervisor a day before. “They would have faced bullets had they decided to go ahead. There was no choice left,” said Panda.

In another incident, polling officials at booth no-137 and 138 in Sirla panchayat in Kandhamal walked 15 kilometres to reach Baliguda today. When voting concluded late in the evening yesterday, the polling officials with over 1700 votes pressed into EVMs were stranded at their booths due to Maoist threats. Later Special Operation Group jawans reached the booths and brought the polling officials to a nearby CRPF camp. After spending the night at the camp, the polling officials reached the district headquarters in Phulbani at about 11am on Friday.

Last week, 36 polling officials of Maoist-affected Malkangiri district had to take a detour and walk 15 km through a mountainous area and forests fearing ambush by Maoists after polls got over in the first phase.

First Published:
Apr 19, 2019 20:14 IST

Source: HindustanTimes