15 villages in Naxal belt voting for first time

Many residents of 15 hilltop villages in the Chakarbanda forests in Gaya will see a polling booth near their homes for the first time. For 30 years, no polling booth had been set up for fear of an attack by Maoists, who had taken control of the area and declared it a “liberated zone”.

Two booths have been set up with the area having been declared free of left-wing extremism 15 months after the CRPF moved in. The CRPF along with the state police claim to have restricted the movement of Maoists, paving the way for the Election Commission and the district administration to set up the booths. In the 2009 Lok Sabha and 2010 assembly elections, booths for the villagers had been set up 10 km away, and only 21.35 and 15.13 per cent voted.

CRPF officials say they have been able to clear 200 sq km in the forests of Maoists and in the next few months they would clear the remaining 100 sq km. The population of around 8,000 includes many first-time voters of the Bhuiyan and Yadav communities.

“During the last elections only people living close to the foothills came out and voted. The presence of Maoists had forced us to relocate the booths but this time they will be set up right in the hills,” said Balamurgan D, district magistrate of Gaya district.

The CRPF has been in seven major encounters in the state this year, three in the Chakarbanda forests.

“We set up camps in the forests in December 2012… We have pushed the Maoists back,” said ER Umesh Kumar, DIG, CRPF (Bihar)

“Until a few years ago, people here did not know what a government official looked like. A parallel government used to be run here by the Maoists. Since the CRPF set up base here, even local employment has gone up. Many villagers here will be voting for the first time,” said a senior government official.