EVMs, biometric IDs transform panchayat polls in Bihar

Almost 90% of newly elected members for over 2 lakh posts are between the ages of 21-30

The recently concluded three-tier panchayat polls in Bihar notched up many firsts, including the fact that nearly 90% of the newly elected representatives are young, new faces between 21-30 years old.

“We voted in the panchayat poll this time to change our mukhia (headman) who was engaged only in minting money and taking cuts in welfare schemes meant for the villagers. We voted for a young face and made him win the poll,” said Ashok Kumar and his brother Vijay Kumar Singh from Bhojpur.

“Nearly 90% of the newly elected panchayat representatives are in the age group of 21-30 years, who come from diverse backgrounds — from MBA degree holders to labourers to engineers and athletes,” State Election Commissioner Deepak Prasad told The Hindu.

The poll panel hopes to complete the profiles of all winning candidates and compile other data on the polls soon. The 11-phase panchayat polls were held from September 24 to December 12 for 2,55,000 posts in three-tier rural local bodies.

In another first, the State Election Commission used biometric IDs, electronic voting machines and optical character recognition (OCR) machines to check bogus voting, rigging and other malpractices during counting of votes.

“Besides, the OCR and digital locks at the strong rooms for EVMs were used to check other malpractices in voting and counting and these steps had very positive impact in conducting poll in free and fair manner,” said Mr. Prasad.

Though, at few places, the pre and post poll incidents of violence and killings were reported, they had no impact on conducting the poll peacefully, he said.

Impressed with the conduct of the polls, Puducherry State Election Commissioner Roy P. Thomas visited Bihar and stayed for six days to study the use of biometrics and EVMs for panchayat polls.

“Bihar has set an example in conducting panchayat poll by using digital technology. The local bodies election in Puducherry is going to be conducted soon and we’re exploring the possibility of using biometric systems for the voters authentication and other digital methods in counting,” said Mr. Thomas.

Former Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi who is currently BJP Rajya Sabha member, too said biometric IDs and EVMs along with OCR technology were used successfully “for the first time in the country and it checked bogus voting and other malpractices in poll”.

The election officials from Telengana, Gujarat, Puducherry, Haryana and Delhi have come to Bihar to study the innovative ways of conducting panchayat polls, he said. “Using digital technology about 15% of fake voters were curtailed while, the average vote percentage was 62%,” Mr Sushil Modi added.

Election for over 8,300 rural panchayats and 143 urban bodies were held for the posts of mukhias, sarpanchs, zila parishad members, panchayat samiti members and ward members. The term of the panchayat bodies mandated for local governance, though, had expired on June 15 this year but the polls were not held due to COVID-19. The state government, later, had brought an ordinance to run the panchayat bodies through advisory committees.

The youngest mukhia elected was Anushka Kumari from Kushahar panchayat of Sheohar block in Sheohar district. A graduate from Bengaluru, Ms. Anushka said she fought the poll to “contest corruption at local level and myriad problems in villages”.

“I’ll never break trust of the people of the panchayat and work hard for their welfare and development here,” she said. Other elected youth have also promised to “bring change and a new life in governance at local level in rural areas”.

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