Bihar gloves polling booth
Gloves used by voters strewn outside a polling booth in Bihar. Image Credit: Supplied

Patna: COVID-19 safety norms were tossed aside at several polling booths during the first phase of voting in Bihar on Wednesday as 53.54 percent voters cast their votes. A total of 71 assembly segments out of the state’s total 243 went to the polls in the first phase. Bihar is the first Indian state where polling is being held amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite the Election Commission issuing repeated guidelines about how to maintain voters’ safety during the pandemic, both voters and polling officials paid scant regard.

A large number of voters were seen reaching the polling booths without wearing facemasks and also maintaining no social distancing in the queues. At a polling booth in Paliganj assembly segment under Patna district, several young voters were seen standing in queues without facemasks and waiting for their turn to cast their votes.

The youth became angry on being asked why they are paying no attention to safety norms. “Why don’t you ask this question to the politicians? They have been moving around in the areas without masks and also attending rallies without them. Is coronavirus only for us, the common men?” they told a local media person.

At a polling booth in Imamganj assembly segment in Gaya district used gloves were seen strewn all over the polling booths as no arrangements were made to dump them into garbage bins. The gloves were provided to the voters before they cast their votes. As per an official report, the health department has purchased gloves, sanitizers, soaps etc worth Rs 68.6 million to be provided to the voters at the polling booths in all the three phases.

Let aside the voters, even the polling officials were caught on camera violating the safety norms. At a polling booth in Nokha assembly constituency in Rohtas district, polling personnel were neither using face masks nor gloves. The circles made for the voters to maintain social distancing were not used. Similar scenes were witnessed in several other booths in many districts as well.

At many places, the voters had smooth access to the booths without any thermal scanning. The polling officials didn’t appear concerned about the voters coming for voting without facemasks or shields.

At a polling booth in Lakhisarai district, a Bhartiya Janata Party minister and party candidate Vijay Kumar Sinha faced the ire of the voters for failing to fulfil pre-poll commitments. In Badhara constituency of Bhojpur districts, angry villagers chased the local Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) candidate Saroj Yadav and also attacked his vehicle. The car’s window panes were smashed in the incident.

At a polling booth in Tikari block in Gaya district, rival party supporters attacked the Congress candidate Sumant Kumar who had gone to the booth after getting complaint of poll rigging.

At least two people died during polling in the day. The first incident was reported from a polling booth in Rohtas district where a 65-year-old voter collapsed while standing in a queue. He was rushed to a local health centre where he was declared brought dead. Another incident was reported from Nawada district where a Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) polling agent died of cardiac arrest at the booth.

In the last 2015 assembly polls, 56.90 percent voters had cast their votes while 52.70 percent voters had cast their votes in 2010.