January 16, 2021 1:51:40 am
POLLING for 649 gram panchayats in Pune district on Friday saw over 80 per cent turnout. Officials said all safety protocols in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic were followed during the polling, which began at 7.30 am and ended at 5.30 pm. The results will be announced on January 18.
Though elections were announced for 748 village panchayats earlier, but in 95, gram panchayat members and presidents were selected unopposed thus negating the need to conduct polls. On the contrary, in Ralegan Siddhi and Hiwre Bazaar villages where panchayat elections have been taking place unopposed and amiably, by and large for several decades, this year however was different.
A total of 11,007 candidates are in the fray for the posts of members and presidents of the gram panchayats in the district. The elections were due in June-July last year, but owing to the ongoing pandemic, the state government postponed the elections and had instead come up with the controversial regime of ‘administrators’.
Pune District Collector Rajesh Deshmukh said the polling took place in a peaceful manner in the entire district with no untoward incident being reported.
“The gram panchayat elections are very closely contested and one expects a high turnout. We have recorded over 80 per cent turnout. All the Covid-19 protocols were followed,” said Deshmukh.
He added that earlier reports about violence at Kusegaon village in Daund tehsil were exaggerated and they were no more than heated altercations between two groups. “These elections are very hotly contested and a verbal dispute is not a reason for worry. I checked after getting information to find out that it was a minor verbal altercation outside the polling station,” said Deshmukh.
Meanwhile, defying activist Anna Hazare’s call for unopposed election, villagers turned out in big numbers in Ralegan Siddhi to exercise their franchise, thus breaking the long tradition of unopposed elections.
Ralegan Siddhi registered a record 85 per cent turn out to elect seven representatives to the gram panchayat. Ralegan Siddhi in Ahmednagar district has 2,200 voters. It has nine wards. It is a single village gram panchayat unlike the group panchayats of three or more villages elsewhere in the state. Of the nine wards, only two candidates (one man and a woman) were elected unopposed.
For more than 30 years, the village had not seen an election as all the candidates were elected unopposed, projecting the image of a united and peaceful gram panchayat.
Amol Zende, a close aide of the crusader, said, “As always, Anna had appealed to the candidates and the villagers to ensure that the long tradition of unopposed election continues. However, the young candidates wanted voting to take place. The young generation argued that they want to get a feel of the entire election process.”
Zende added that young candidates also pointed out that some elders were consistently getting elected and the young generation was not getting a chance to represent the village and get their ideas implemented. “Anna agreed with their arguments…he was not disappointed though he wanted unopposed election,” Zende said.
After casting his vote, Hazare said, “It is the duty of every voter to exercise their franchise. If our democracy has to be strengthened, it will happen only through gram panchayats and not through Vidhan Sabha or Lok Sabha elections.”
Meanwhile in Shindi Khurd village of Maan taluka in Satara district, only two voters had turned up to vote by 5 pm. Village sarpanch Babasaheb Kadam said, “By 5 pm, only two voters had voted. The two who voted were candidates… We wanted unopposed election as other six candidates were also elected unopposed. However, by 5.30 pm, we ensured that 15 voters cast their franchise because there will be postal ballots as well, which might result in a close contest between the two. The villagers want one particular candidate to win.”
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