Bhubaneswar records lowest turnout despite Odisha recording its highest in history

First times voters showing their inked fingers after casting votes at a polling station during the fifth phase of polling for Lok Sabha elections in Bhubaneswar. (PTI Photo) First times voters showing their inked fingers after casting votes at a polling station during the fifth phase of polling for Lok Sabha elections in Bhubaneswar. (PTI)

Odisha recorded its highest-ever polling percentage this election, but Khurda district, the seat of power in Odisha, proved to be a dampener with the lowest poll percentage in the State.

Odisha chief electoral officer Dr Mona Sharma on Thursday told reporters that in the two phases that Odisha voted on April 10 and 17, about 74.3 per cent of the eligible 2.8 crore voters in the State turning out to vote.

While tribal-dominated Mayurbhanj district recorded the highest 82 per cent polling, Khurda recorded the lowest with 56 per cent. Incidentally, the turnout of Khurda voters in 2014 was its highest in the last several decades.

Till this election, the highest voting percentage recorded in Odisha in any assembly or Lok Sabha election was in 1995, when Congress rode back to power in the State Assembly in what proved to be late chief minister Biju Patnaik’s swansong. Then Odisha recorded 73.6 per cent polling, its highest till 2014 turnout surpassed it. Even in 1977 when Janata Party won in the aftermath of Emergency rule, Odisha had a measly 44.7 voter turnout.

In 2009, 65.3 per cent of the voters turned out while 66.05 per cent of the voters​.

In 2014 polls, helped by voter education and awareness programmes in villages as well as towns and through TV spots, turnout exceeded 70 per cent in most of the 30 districts. In Bhadrak 75 per cent, in Nayagarh 75.6 per cent, in Jharsuguda 80 per cent, in Jagatsinghpur 75.2 per cent, in Puri 73.9 per cent, in Balasore 81.9 per cent and in Dhenkanal 76 per cent people voted.

But Khurda which saw maximum awareness programmes saw the lowest turnout. Bhubaneswar, which is part of Khurda district, saw a measly 44 per cent of voters turnout. Most of people, who cast their votes were from the 436 slums in the city.

Though officials at Chief Electoral Officer in Khurda refused to comment about the reasons of low turnout, other senior officials in-charge of election said the problem lied with Bhubaneswar where at least 25 per cent of the 6.5 lakh voters simply did not exist.

“These are the people who are no longer living in Bhubaneswar, yet their names continue to be there. A massive de-weeding of voters who have left the city for a longtime should be taken up by the Election Commission,” the official said.

Another reason officials said was the deployment of government officials in poll duty. “While these officials were away in duty, their remaining family members did not feel inclined to go to the polling booths. Besides, the day after poll day being a Good Friday and the next day being weekends, several voters had planned quick holidays,” said an official.

Bhubaneswar resident Piyush Ranjan Rout, who runs a civic initiative named Local Governance Network, said EC should be faulted for the low turnout as its officials could not reach to the voters with voters’ slips.

“In 2012 Delhi Assembly poll, a massive exercise by the EC to get the slips to each of the voters pushed up the turnout. This time, lot of these voters did not get the slips. In the absence of slips, they perhaps did not want to wait for long hours at the polling booth searching their names in the list,” he said. “Besides, people in Bhubaneswar may have been put off by the lack of interesting candidates.’

There were several like Sujit Mahapatra, who had to come back disappointed after failing to find their names in the voters’ list. “I had last voted in this year’s civic polls. But when I reached the polling booth yesterday, I was surprised to find my name deleted though I carried my EPIC card,” he said.

But EC officials said there was a silver lining to the low turnout as the 2014 polling was better than the BMC elections this year where 42 per cent people voted. In 2009 polls only 38.29 per people had cast their votes.