Nearly one lakh security personnel have been deployed in the Naxal-affected districts going to polls in the first phase in Chhattisgarh on Monday, amid the threat from Maoists who have called for a boycott of the elections.
On the eve of the polls, a sub-inspector of the Border Security Force (BSF) lost his life when Naxals detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) in Kanker district while a Maoist was gunned down in an encounter in Bijapur district.
Voting will be held on Monday in 18 seats spread over eight Naxal-affected districts in the state.
Naxal outfits have given calls for boycott of the election and executed over half-a-dozen attacks in the last 15 days, three of them major ones which left 13 people dead including a cameraman of national broadcaster Doordarshan who was covering the election campaign.
According to police, escorting polling parties to their destinations and bringing them back after the polls pose challenges to them in the Naxal hotbed.
“Around one lakh security personnel, including central paramilitary force, have been deployed to ensure peaceful polling in the first phase,” Chhattisgarh’s Special Director General (anti-Naxal operations) DM Awasthi told PTI.
All countermeasures have been taken to thwart attempts by Maoists to disrupt the poll process, he said.
A total of 650 companies (roughly around 65,000 security personnel), including of paramilitary forces like the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Border Security Force (BSF), the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and other state forces, have been sent by the Centre for poll duty, he said.
These units are apart from the paramilitary personnel and 200 companies of state forces already engaged in the anti-Maoist operations in Chhattisgarh, Awasthi said.
He said around 650 polling booth parties were airlifted by helicopters on Saturday to remote areas while other teams were being sent by road on Sunday.
Choppers of the Indian Air Force and the BSF were pressed into service for the purpose, he said.
“The challenge is to escort all polling parties safely to their destination in Naxal-affected areas and later to conduct polls and bring back them safely,” Awasthi said.
He said there are inputs of Naxals planning to plant IEDs to target security men. “Therefore, a hawk eye was being kept on roads in such areas,” the official said.
Awasthi said forces that have arrived from other states have been advised to avoid using any road unless it has been sanitised by “road opening parties” (ROPs) or subjected to a de-mining exercise to detect and clear IEDs.
Security men have also been asked to avoid patrolling on foot as Naxals are known to place iron spikes to inflict injuries, he said.
They have also been asked to maintain extra caution and sanitise polling booths and other premises in sensitive areas, he said.
In the last 10 days, over 300 IEDs were recovered from the Bastar region and Rajnandgaon district by security forces, he added.
Another state police official said as many as 198 polling booths have been relocated in the eight districts going to polls, in view of the Maoist threat and convenience of locals.
The highest number of 76 polling booths were shifted in Bijapur, followed by Sukma-40, Kanker-25, Dantewada-21, Narayanpur-18, Rajnandgaon-12, Kondagaon-four and Bastar- two, the official said on condition of anonymity.
Drones have been deployed in sensitive areas to track the movements of Naxals as they might target polling personnel on way to the booths, he said.
Police have been asked to maintain a strict vigil on the borders with Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha.
Due to the Naxal threat, polling in 10 constituencies – Mohla-Manpur, Antagarh, Bhanupratappur, Kanker, Keshkal, Kondagaon, Narayanpur, Dantewada, Bijapur and Konta – will start at 7 am and end at 3 pm.
In the other eight seats Khairgarh, Dongargarh, Rajnandgaon, Dongargaon, Khujji, Bastar, Jagdalpur and Chitrakot the polling time will be 8 am to 5 pm.
On November 8, four civilians and a CISF jawan were killed when Naxals detonated a bus with an IED in Dantewada district.
Before that on October 30, three police personnel and a cameraman of national broadcaster Doordarshan were killed in a Maoist attack in Aranpur area of Dantewada.
On October 27, four CRPF personnel were killed and two others injured after Maoists blew up their bullet proof bunker vehicle with an IED in Bijapur district.