Kolkata, Apr 17: Polling for the first of the five-phase Assembly election to 45 seats in three Maoist-dominated South Bengal districts began at 0700 hours this morning under the hawk eyes of the Election Commission and unprecedented security cover.
The polling, being held in Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore districts, would decide the fate of altogether 227 candidates, including Health Minister Surjyakanta Mishra, Water Resources Minister Nanda Gopal Bhattacharya, Backward Classes Welfare Minister Upen Kisku and Ministers of State Bilasibala Sahis and Susanta Ghosh.
Former Ministers Partha De and Sambhu Mandi and swimmer Bula Choudhury, making her electoral debut as a CPI (M) candidate, are among other prominent aspirants.
Altogether 3.2 million electorate, 51.05 per cent of them male and 48.92 per cent female, will exercise their rights to franchise.
Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Debasish Sen said while full security cover had been provided in all the constituencies, two helicopters had been pressed into service for aerial surveillance and 3,000 digital cameras were being used for taking photographs of the voters without photo identity cards and abnormal incident inside booths.
Altogether 92 Observers - two each for 37 constituencies and eight each for as many - were supervising polling. Ten Observers had been deputed for taking stock of election-related expenditure of the candidates.
The CEO said control rooms had been set up in each of the three districts for monitoring the situation and updated information.
About 70 per cent of the polling personnel had already left for their destinations - 7700 booths - from 21 dispersal centres across the three districts, he informed.
Mr Sen said 95.22 per cent of the voters in the three districts had already received voter's photo identity cards with West Midnapore topping the list (97.59 per cent), followed by Bankura (95.22 per cent) and Purulia (91.15 per cent).
In all 300 companies of Central Para Military Force, including CRPF, BSF and ITBP, have been pressed into service by the Election Commission to ensure free and fair elections.
While West Midnapore accounts for 21 constituencies, including the sensitive ones in Keshpur, Pingla, Debra and Garbetta (East and West), Bankura for 13 constituencies, including Ranibandh (ST), Taldanga and Raipur (ST), and Purulia for 11, including Bandowan, Jhalda and Jaypur and Arsa.
Three constituencies in Purulia - Arsa, Jaipur and Hura - have maximum number of ten candidates fighting it out for the polls. The Medinipur constinuency in East Midnapore district is considered to be the largest constituency with over 1.8 million voters.
There are, however, no straight fights in any of the constituencies. While three constituencies are witnessing the highest of ten candidates fighting for the seat, the lowest number of candidates are three for eight constituencies.