The state Election Commission and the Mumbai Police have categorised 62 polling stations in the Mumbai City District as ‘critical’.
Close to 40 per cent of these polling booths are located in the communally sensitive Mumbadevi and Byculla assembly constituencies, where both agencies have cited a mixed Hindu-Muslim population and said that voters are ‘vulnerable due to people intimidating them’. Of the 62 booths, 14 are in Mumbadevi, 13 in Sion Koliwada, 9 in Byculla, 7 in Colaba, 5 each in Shivadi and Dharavi , 4 in Mahim, 3 in Worli and 1 each in Wadala and Malabar Hill.
According to the EC, that leaves 73,319 voter base vulnerable in all ten constituencies. With regard to Byculla, which has a total of 2,24,683 voters and Mumbadevi, a total of 233546 voters, where 11,226 and 15,800 respectively are registered at 23 critical polling booths, the police said that it is prepared. “The categorisation has been made to ensure free and fair elections. In an area with a mixed population, we have to ensure that candidates do not garner votes on religious lines and one group should intimidate the other.
Voters should not be threatened or prevented from voting for certain candidates. A separate security plan has been chalked out for these polling booths, which includes the deployment of the state reserve police force and central paramilitary forces,” said S. Jayakumar, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Zone III.
He added, “Going by past offences, trouble on polling day is more an outcome of political affiliations than communal incidents. We have identified mischief-mongers and have been carrying out preventive measures. Till date, we have booked 600 known criminals.
We have also been carrying out nakabandis and combing operations to recover illicit arms. There have also been flag marches by central paramilitary forces to create sense of confidence in the minds of people.”
The police also held meetings with locals to diffuse any possible communal tension in the run-up to the polls. “We have anticipated that there could be communal tension due to a mixed population. We have tried to educate residents and raise their confidence levels. They do not have to be afraid to vote for the candidate of their choice,” said Nandkumar Mhetar, senior inspector, Nagpada police station.
In the week leading up to the assembly elections, the EC studied polling stations in each of the assembly constituencies in the city, categorising them as critical if they checked any of the five criteria.
“We were looking for areas where voters may be intimidated by anti social elements into voting for a particular candidate, the number of voters who do not possess election cards, polling booths with a large number of missing voters and areas with significant Hindu- Muslim population. Once the field work was completed these polling booths were declared critical,” said Dyaneshwar Khillary, Nodal Officer for Vulnerability Mapping and District Security Plan.
Khillary added that simultaneously, the police had listed 25 polling booths across ten constituencies as vulnerable. “We then put both lists together to arrive at the figure of 62. Together with the police, we have finalised the security plan for these polling booths over the weekend,” he said.
“We have considered past incidents of intimidation and vote manipulation at these booths before citing them as critical,” Khillary said.