Forest and police departments will extend assistance to the Election Commission (EC) in providing communication networks in 399 polling booths, which are located in shadow zones, during the upcoming Assembly polls in Gujarat on December 9 and 14. The EC identifies areas with no mobile phone network or other public communication connectivity as shadow zones, mostly deep forests in tribal belts or hilly terrains.
This as District Election Officers (DEOs) had sought help from the forest and police departments to ensure smooth communication between the polling booths and base camps through their wireless communication systems. The polling booth officers need to relay voting data every two hours to the presiding returning officer of each Assembly constituency on the day of the polls. It is among the mandatory checklist for polling booth officers.
According to the officials of the State Election Commission, most of the 399 shadow zone booths are located in the districts of Narmada and The Dang – 103 and 94 respectively. Both the districts have a sizeable stretch of deep forests, which have villages in their core areas, mostly dominated by various tribal communities. According to the DEOs, each booth in the shadow zone has about 500 voters.
The forest department has about 20 wireless stations in Narmada district, located every 5 kilometres. Narmada DEO R S Ninama said most of the 103 polling booths, identified in the shadow areas, are in Dediapada Assembly constituency. The forest and police department use similar wireless communication system. So, we have sought help from the forest department for our booth officers. The presiding officer as well as the booth-level officers will relay messages from the booth to the forest station, which will then send the message to the Returning Officer (RO) of the Assembly constituency.”
Ninama added the wireless system of the police, accompanying the polling teams, could also be used, if needed. The election observers will also have a wireless unit in their vehicle. “One wireless unit will be deployed in each of the Assembly constituency head offices for the RO,” Ninama said.
Narmada district has two constituencies — Dediapada and Nandod — with 309 polling stations each, while The Dangs has a single Assembly seat with 328 booths. In Chhota Udepur district too, DEO Vijaykumar Kharadi has identified 37 shadow zone booths, of which 24 are located in Naswadi and Sankheda talukas. Kharadi also said they will seek help from the forest and police departments for communication. “Most of the shadow areas in the district are in hilly terrain and have no public communication networks available,” said the DEO.
Chhota Udepur has three Assembly seats — Chhota Udepur, Sankheda and Jetpur. Another predominantly tribal district of Tapi, which has two Assembly seats — Vyara and Nizar — has 46 polling stations in the shadow zones. According to Dahod DEO J Ranjithkumar,14 such booths have been identified in six Assembly constituencies.