Balloting in remote moutain booths and cold deserts

Shimla: Trudging up miles of rugged, cold and inhospitable terrain of the trans-Himalayas to conduct the election process in the interiors of Himachal Pradesh is a backbreaking task. But this is what India’s democracy is all about.

Election officials say the staff has to traverse distances ranging from 10 to 25 km on foot, or sometimes on horseback, from the road-head to take polling material for the Nov 4 assembly polls.

“For reaching some of the polling booths, mainly in Kinnaur, Chamba, Kullu, Shimla and Lahaul and Spiti districts, the poll staff has to start the journey on foot sometimes two days in advance,” said Chief Electoral Officer Narender Chauhan.

The state has 43 polling stations that are located at a distance of 10 km or more from the last place connected by road, while 20 booths are spread over the cold desert of Lahaul and Spiti, he said. The journey on foot for the polling booth at Kasha in the Rampur constituency in Shimla district is 25 km.

Likewise, for Shakti in the Banjar constituency in Kullu district it’s a 20-km walk, while it’s 11 km to Dharhan in Kullu and 15 km to Charang in Kinnaur’s Pooh subdivision.

In Shimla district, there are 11 polling booths that can be accessed only after a 10-km walk, while in Kinnaur there are 25 booths located at an altitude of 9,000 feet to 12,000 feet above sea level.

Chauhan said poll parties, polling material and Electronic Voting Machines would be airlifted to the state’s remotest polling station in Bara Bhangal in the Baijnath constituency in Kangra district.

The Bara Bhangal booth has 45 voters, including 19 women.

Chauhan said helicopter services would also be provided to Pangi in Chamba district and Keylong and Kaza towns in Lahaul and Spiti district.

The Pangi segment in the Bharmour constituency has 32 polling stations, while there are 89 stations in Lahaul and Spiti.

Poll officials said there are several hamlets across Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti where voters have to trek more than 10 km to reach the polling station.

The state’s oldest voter Shyam Saran Negi, 95, who voted in the country’s first elections also, will cast his vote at a booth located in the tiny picturesque hamlet of Kalpa in Kinnaur district.

A total of 326 voters, including 150 women, will exercise their franchise at Hikkam in Lahaul and Spiti, the highest polling station in the world, located at an altitude of over 15,000 feet. The Hikkam polling station caters to three villages – Komik, Langche and Hikkam – where the night temperature now hovers around five degrees celsius below freezing.

As per records of the state election department, the Hikkam polling station had recorded highest (83.3 percent) turnout in the district during the 2007 assembly elections.

As many as 7,253 polling stations have been set up in the state, 1,317 of which have been declared sensitive and 763 hypersensitive.

The hill state has 4,608,359 voters who will cast their votes in 68 constituencies. The counting will be on Dec 20 after the Gujarat assembly polls are over.

By Vishal Gulati/IANS

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