Holding polls in remote Himalayan stations an uphill task

April 18th, 2009 - 11:18 am ICT by IANS  

Darjeeling, April 18 (IANS) Holding the elections in two remote polling stations of Darjeeling district is an uphill task.
Poll officials have to trek 12 km up the Himalayas to reach the polling station at Srikhola, located 2,800 metres above sea level. They will start two days before the April 30 poll. Once they reach, they will have neither electricity nor piped water, just like the 692 voters registered to exercise their franchise at the station.

Polls are the only times these residents of the district’s Bijanbari block see the administrative machinery in strength. Apart from electronic voting machines (EVM), The officials will carry their own torches, battery chargers, portable generators, candles and lanterns.

“No vehicle can go there. The poll material is put on the back of ponies. If ponies are unavailable, then porters have to be hired. The polling personnel have to trek,” said Samden Dukpa, officer in charge of elections in Darjeeling district.

Situated 99 km southwest of this hill station, most voters in the highest booth of West Bengal are Lepchas, Sherpas, Tamangs or Limbus.

Two hundred metres below Srikhola is Daragaon, another station where holding the poll for its 1,088 voters is a challenge for the Election Commission.

There are 17 other polling stations in the neighbouring Kalimpong hills which are categorised as p-2 booths for their inaccessibility.

Inclement weather makes the situation more difficult. “We have decided that if there is a natural calamity then the EVMs will be carried to the booths in helicopters. If the polling party gets stranded because of the weather, then they will be airlifted,” Dukpa told IANS.

Another problem is ferrying the EVMs to the counting centres after the polling. “Often these are the last to arrive at the counting venue, and are the last to be counted,” Dukpa said.

Though there is no such stipulation, the administration ensures that only officials able to do the trek and rough it out for a few days are sent to conduct the elections in these stations, said an official busy training the polling personnel.

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