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Chatra District Bucks National Trend with Increased Voter Turnout Amidst Naxal Challenges

Led by District Commissioner Mr. Ramesh Gholap, strategic interventions were implemented in the Chatra district, which led to an increase in vote percentage.
Indian Masterminds Stories

The country just finished its fifth phase of the Lok Sabha Election and is getting ready for the sixth phase on May 25th. This year, the voter turnout has been lower compared to the last election, with many blaming it on the extreme heat and dissatisfaction with the current government. However, in the Chatra district, there was an increase in the number of people voting. In 2019, 64.5% of eligible voters turned out, while this time it’s around 63.42%, excluding the postal & electronic ballots.

The current District Commissioner, Mr. Ramesh Gholap, expects this number to go up by 1 to 1.5% once all the votes, including postal and electronic ballots, are counted. What’s noteworthy is that the district administration successfully encouraged more people to vote, especially in areas affected by Naxal violence.

During an exclusive conversation with Indian Masterminds, Mr. Gholap, who is also the returning officer, shared all the details and the interventions taken to get the results. 

VOTING TREND 

In the recently concluded fifth phase of elections, the national average voter turnout was 62.30%, with Jharkhand recording a slightly higher turnout of 63.21%. Most districts in Jharkhand saw a decrease of 3-5% in voter turnout, but Chatra district is expecting a 1-1.5% increase. This is a significant achievement, especially considering the challenges posed by Naxal violence in certain areas.

In the 50 booths where voter turnout was 47.3% in 2019, this year it surged to 55.74%, with some booths experiencing a remarkable increase of 25-30%. Even in urban areas, where voter turnout is traditionally low, there was an increase. For instance, the Chatra Nagar Parishad booth saw a turnout of 66.17%, compared to 57.72% in the 2019 election.

Chatra district has a total of 872,000 voters, out of which approximately 507,850 turned up to vote. Interestingly, the turnout of female voters surpassed that of males, with females comprising 69% of the total turnout. District Commissioner Mr. Gholap, attributes the lower turnout of male voters to migration trends over the years. However, his team has been actively encouraging more female voters to participate in the electoral process.

DEMOCRACY OVER NAXALISM 

In the Chatra district, a considerable portion of the population belongs to tribal communities, which traditionally tend to be less participative in such civic activities. Moreover, the district has grappled with persistent Naxalism, which has deterred voter engagement for years. In previous elections, booths had to be relocated due to security threats. However, this time, there was a notable change.

Mr. Gholap, in collaboration with the district police, took proactive measures to ensure that booths in naxal affected villages weren’t relocated, thereby avoiding inconvenience for voters. This decision marked a departure from past practices and demonstrated a commitment to upholding democratic principles even in challenging circumstances.

“In previous elections, numerous villages faced the issue of booths being designated on paper but ultimately relocated 5-10 km away due to safety concerns. This often resulted in many voters abstaining from casting their votes due to the inconvenience. However, this time, we ensured that everyone vote at their convenience and only three out of around 15 booths (in Naxal reason) were shifted for such reasons. Earlier, Additionally, we established model booths in select villages to further facilitate the voting process,” explained Mr. Gholap.

His decision yielded positive outcomes, with those villages witnessing a notable increase in voter turnout. For instance, in Kanhachatti block, the Gadia booth saw a significant rise from 51.3% in 2019 to 63.11% in the current election. Similarly, in Pathel, the voter percentage surged from 54.9% to 58.12%. First time after creation of Jharkhand voters of Pathel and Gadia voted at the polling station made in their village.

INTERVENTIONS 

The district administration accomplished this feat through a strategic and focused approach. Initially, they identified the 50 booths with the lowest voter turnout and assigned a nodal officer to each one. These officers were tasked with visiting their respective regions at least three times to engage with the local communities and emphasize the significance of voting.

Additionally, Mr. Gholap organized Ratri Chaupal events across almost all areas of the district. These events saw the District Magistrate and Superintendent of Police actively participating, even in the Naxal-affected regions. “We talked about voting awareness and encouraged them to vote. We stayed there until late in the night. Our visit to the naxal areas increased the confidence of people,” said the collector. 

“We engaged in discussions about voter awareness and actively encouraged them to participate in the electoral process. Our presence in these Naxal-affected areas significantly boosted the confidence of the residents,” stated the collector.

Additionally, his team organized Chunav Chetna events, which saw the participation of over 10,000 people, including students, aimed at enhancing awareness about voting. Each booth had a dedicated awareness group comprising 20-25 individuals, including members of Self-Help Groups (SHGs), who conducted door-to-door campaigns. Furthermore, to appeal to the younger demographic, every booth featured a designated selfie point.

TILL THE LAST DAY 

“A control room was established to monitor the polls, allowing us to closely track voter turnout. Every two hours, we received updates on voter numbers, enabling us to identify booths with minimal or low turnout,” explained the DM.

“Upon receiving this data, immediate action was taken. We contacted the Self-Help Group (SHG) women and Booth Level Officer (BLO) from the respective area, who were part of the booth awareness group. They then conducted door-to-door campaigns to encourage voter participation.”

“In addition, miking vehicles were deployed in these areas on election day to further encourage people to vote. Despite long queues, our SHG women and volunteers ensured that no voter left without casting their vote,” the DM emphasized.


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