KOLKATA: Despite the sweltering heat, brisk polling was recorded with over 63 percent of the electorate exercising their franchise in the first six hours of voting in 18 constituencies in the first phase of the West Bengal assembly elections on Monday.
There will be seven days of polling for 294 assembly seats. The last day of polling is scheduled on May 5.
Polling booths opened amid tight security at 7 a.m. in the 18 constituencies -- nine in Purulia district, three in Bankura district and six in West Midnapore district.
For the first phase of elections, there are 40,09,171 registered voters and 133 candidates.
Braving the scorching sun, a large number of people queued up outside the polling booths.
"An average of 63.15 percent turnout was recorded till 1 pm. There are no reports of violence. Polling so far has been very peaceful," said an election commission official.
"Around 65.45 percent polling was reported in West Midnapore, 62.15 percent in Bankura and 61.95 percent in Purulia," he said.
The commission received over 100 complaints, mostly about malfunctioning of electronic voting machines (EVMs), while a presiding officer in a booth in Purulia was changed following an allegation of trying to influence voters.
Meanwhile, a section of voters in Piyalsole village under Manbazar constituency in Purulia boycotted voting.
Complaining of lack of development in the area, the villagers said the decision to boycott the polls was taken in advance.
"From hospital to school to even the market, everything is in Manbazar. The road here is virtually non-existent which makes commuting to Manbazar difficult," said one of the villagers, adding that most of them have to walk several km to fetch drinking water.
Among major candidates in the fray are state Minister Sukumar Hansda of the Trinamool from Jhargram and CPI-M's Pulin Bihari Baske contesting from Gopiballavpur.
The Congress and the Left Front accused Trinamool Congress activists of attempting to influence and intimidate voters in several booths across the three districts, a charge denied by the ruling party.
The Trinamool, the Congress-Left Front combine and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are in the fray for the 18 constituencies.
A multi-layered security ring has been put in place around the constituencies.
At least 10 personnel of a central paramilitary force have been deployed to secure each polling station in 13 Left Wing Extremism-(LWE)-affected constituencies where polling will end two hours earlier, at 4 p.m, than in other areas.
In five other constituencies - Purulia, Manbazar, Kashipur, Para and Raghunathpur (all in Purulia district) - voting will continue up to 6 p.m.
Besides helicopters carrying out sorties, an air-ambulance and quick response teams are on standby.
There are 4,945 polling stations out of which 1,962 have been classified as critical where special security measures have been taken.
Voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) have been made available in 562 polling stations.
Under VVPAT, a printer-like apparatus is linked to the EVM. When a vote is cast, a receipt is generated showing the serial number, name and symbol of the candidate. It confirms the vote and the voter can verify the details.