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Enthusiastic:Voters of Chennai came out in large numbers to exercise their franchise on Wednesday. A scene at Don Bosco Matriculation School, Peravallur, Kolathur constituency.
CHENNAI: Residents of the city have reason to cheer. According to provisional data provided by the District Election Office, 66.18 per cent of the eligible voters in Chennai exercised their franchise on Wednesday.
While this may be lower than the State average, it is still a heartening 7.9 percentage point-increase in the voter turnout in the city when compared to the last Assembly elections. In 2006, the turnout was 58.28 per cent and in the 2001 elections, it was even lower, at 43.73 per cent.
The city, with nearly 31.7 lakh eligible voters, was buzzing with poll day activity in all its 16 constituencies.
While some instances of confusion, names missing on the voters' lists, faulty electronic voting machines (EVMs) and long waits were reported, the overall picture that emerged was that of a largely peaceful and smooth election day.
Voters' enthusiasm was evident across the city. Many gathered at 7 a.m. at polling booths unaware that the poll would begin at 8 a.m. “I came at 7 a.m. and had to wait till 8.30 a.m. to cast my vote,” said B.Boopathy, a voter in booth 40M of Villivakkam constituency.
The facilities in polling booths ranged from being very satisfactory and senior citizen-friendly in some constituencies to being overcrowded and stuffy in others.
Voters in many booths were forced to wait long hours in the 35 degree Celsius heat, as there was no shelter. A.J. Kanagarathinam (64) who came to vote at Jaigopal Garodia Girls Higher Secondary School, in Virugampakkam constituency, said: “I came here out of a sense of duty. But this seems like a punishment.”
After his wife spent an hour standing in a queue outside booth number 23 in the school, the couple went home unable to bear the heat. However, they came back in the evening only to find a longer queue. “We really want to cast our vote. While it is refreshing to see such a large turnout, preparation and facilities are totally inadequate,” he said.
The provision of ramps was not uniform across booths, either.
In a polling station at Kings Matriculation School, Kalpalayam in Madhavaram constituency, which comes under Tiruvallur district, voters waited for almost two hours to cast their votes in a cramped space. J.B. Jagan, a resident, said: “I came here around 8.15 a.m. . As there is only one EVM, the queue moved very slowly.” The situation was similar in Meenakshi Higher Secondary School, TVS Avenue, Anna Nagar West Extension, in Ambattur constituency, Tiruvallur district.
There were also a few cases of booth numbers not being displayed prominently. In Kolathur constituency, polling booth numbers 50, 68, 69 were not displayed in front of the gate of Thiru.Vi.Ka. Nagar Chennai Middle School.
However, there were good samaritans such as R. Krishnaswamy, who did their bit to help fellow voters. The senior citizen, who was at the Jaffarkhanpet Chennai Higher Secondary School to cast his vote, made sure that the elderly and pregnant women were directed straight into their respective polling booth without having to wait. When the polling officer asked him who he was, “I am public,” he said.
Malfunctioning EVMs caused quite a stir in a number of booths in Virugampakkam, Mylapore, and T.Nagar. The problem was more in the case of centres that housed over six polling booths within the premises.
The polling process was delayed by at least half an hour as EVMs were not ready in some booths in Ambattur and Madhavaram.
There were several cases of voters producing their IDs and angrily demanding booth slips from polling officials. Many of them had failed to check the electoral rolls earlier and expected their names to figure in the list at the booths.
All the same, there were also some cases of error that prevented eager voters from exercising their franchise.
M. Lakshmi, at Don Bosco School, Perambur, had a voter ID and a booth slip with her photograph. However, the booth slip had the name ‘Nijaz Ahmed' and polling officials said she could not vote until a higher official came to the premises, for it was a discrepancy that only the higher official could take a decision on.
“In my slip they mentioned the polling booth number as 166 and the location as Chennai Primary School, Nadhamuni Street, Nadvankarai, Chennai – 600040, which is 2 km away from my house. On reaching the venue, we found that the polling booth number was actually 16. Later, we came to the Corporation Division Office No 73 on Narasimahan Street, Chennai – 600 029 and voted,” said K. Shanmugavelayutham, of Anna Nagar constituency.
Srihari Reddy, a voter in Janakiram Reddy Colony, in Kolathur, said that he and his family members were not able to get booth slips. Ganapathi of Kolathur claimed that the supplementary list did not have their names despite their applying in time.
In some cases, only the head of the family's name was included. “The officials came to my house three times to verify and I am also carrying the acknowledgment slip. This is unfair,” said V. Latha.
At booth no. 78 on T.P. Koil Street, Triplicane, Saravanan and his wife Lalitha, and K. Selvaraj and his wife Padmini did not find their name in the voter's list. Ms. Lalitha said, “I have been living on the street for five years. Officials came thrice and checked our details, yet our names have been left out.”
Some voters also chose the 49(O) option. Shareef Abdur Rawoof (20), a first-time voter was one. “None of the political parties seems a possible answer to the current state of affairs. This process is simple but would make a difference. I was given a slip where I was asked to sign,” said the youngster at the Corporation Primary School, Shenoy Nagar, Anna Nagar.
V. Gopalakrishnan, a resident of MGR Nagar, said he cast his vote under 49 O without any hassle.
It was a new experience for voters as the officials at the ‘Voter assistance booth' patiently rummaged through sheets of paper.
The officials had a rather tough time answering angry, impatient and often rude voters. With little shade, and hardly any time even for lunch, officials in most booths were very polite .
In the Corporation Anganwadi on Wall Tax Road, voters of Jutkapuram had to wait in long queues, as officials took time to check the records. A polling officer said as the polling booth was considered “sensitive”, the officials were extra cautious in checking the details.
The polling booths in Kolathur were heavily guarded. Police and paramilitary personnel questioned every person at the entrance of a booth in Chennai Elementary School, Third Main Road, Srinivasa Nagar .
Visits by candidates M.K. Stalin and Saidai Duraiswamy to the polling stations in the constituency added to the tension.
At several polling booths, known to be violence-prone in Perambur, Thiru. Vi. Ka. Nagar and Harbour constituencies, armed security personnel was in place.
The Chennai High School in Otteri, Thiru. Vi. Ka. Nagar, witnessed some tension outside the polling booth when both the Congress candidate C. Natesan and the AIADMK candidate V. Neelakantan along with a posse of party cadres came to the polling booth. Police intervened and asked both the candidates to leave the spot.
Police had to intervene to regulate booths that witnessed overcrowding in the morning. Constituencies such as Egmore and Thousand Lights had a surge in the number of voters thronging the booths during the period of 10 a.m. to 12 noon.
S.K. Bhattacharyajee, a CRPF official posted at Chennai High School, said, “One way it is nice that we do not speak or understand the local language here. While it is noisy around me, I will not have any biases. It helps me do my job with an open mind. But, I wish I could understand what the local policemen speak.”
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