Conducting elections in Himachal Pradesh is set to test the official machinery,particularly in tribal and remote areas. Some of the polling parties,tasked with setting up the polling booths and conducting the election process on the D-day,will be traversing distances ranging from 11 to 24 km on foot from the road-head just to reach these remote and inaccessible areas. For the November 4 polls,many of these parties will start two days in advance to climb steep mountains and will come down only a day after the last vote has been cast.
The polling party tasked with setting up the booth at Kasha in the reserved Rampur constituency in Shimla district will need to walk 24 km on foot to reach the village.
The poll party headed for Shakti in Banjar constituency in Kullu district will need to walk 20 km just to reach the village. Similarly,to reach Gharhan in Kullu,the poll parties will walk 11 km. There are five more polling stations in Kullu where these parties will need to travel more than 10 km each just to reach the villages.
In the tribal areas of Kinnaur district,one poll party will walk 15 km to reach Chirang while another will travel 14 km on foot to reach Rupi. Two more poll parties will walk 13 km each to reach Kunnu and Shingarcha.
In Shimla district,there are 11 polling stations,for which the parties will need to walk over 10 km. There are another 14 booths for which parties will walk between seven to 10 km.
Each polling party will comprise 4-5 personnel on an average and will carry 122 items,ranging from electronic voting machines (EVMs) and envelopes to inks in their backpacks. With the possibility of EVM batteries discharging quickly in sub-zero temperatures looming large,these parties will also carry spare EVMs and batteries. While mobile phone and landline connectivity has been provided in most areas,there are at least 22 shadow areas in Kinnaur where there is no telecommunication signal. Very High Frequency (VHF) sets used by the Himachal Police will be pressed into service in these shadow areas.
Since officials deployed in these polling parties are generally identified randomly,the authorities are worried whether they will be able to secure physically fit personnel who will be able to take these long mountain treks.
We have raised this matter with the Election Commission (EC). We are requesting the EC that out of the available staff,we should be allowed to send only able-bodied people to these remote,inaccessible booths. The EC has agreed to this in principle and asked us to send a formal proposal to this effect,which we are in the process of sending, Kullu Deputy Commissioner Amandeep Garg told The Indian Express. The main worry is that due to randomisation of the election staff,we may end up in a situation where an old or unfit person gets deployed in a poll party that will have to walk a long and arduous distance. We are looking to identify and send physically fit people on these tough duties, Garg added.
In Kinnaur district,which has just the single Kinnaur constituency,25 polling booths will be set up at a height ranging from 9,000 feet to 12,000 feet above sea level. On November 4,there is every possibility that these 25 booths will have temperatures in minus degrees Celsius. To ensure smooth operations,we have tied up with village panchayats to set up firewood pandals near these booths. In fact,30 panchayats have already promised to provide wood for this, Kinnaur Deputy Commissioner Rajiv Shankar said.
To ensure hassle-free conduct of polls in harsh temperatures and inhospitable conditions in Kinnaur,the authorities will deploy a paramedic each with the 25 polling parties stationed at the highest of altitudes.
Interestingly,with Karva Chauth falling on November 2,several personnel deployed on election duties have sought exemptions from the district authorities for the November 4 duty,for which 80 to 90 per cent of polling parties will need to move on November 2 itself.
Some individual petitions and representations have gone to the EC, said Himachal Pradesh Chief Electoral Officer Narinder Chauhan. While Karva Chauth is not that big a festival in the tribal areas of Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti,it surely has a presence in districts like Una,Kangra,Solan,Sirmaur and Shimla. Most requests seeking exemptions from poll duties are being reported from these districts.