Meghalaya polls face jumbo threat, 194 booths ‘sensitive’

Shillong: Election officials in Meghalaya face an elephantine problem to ensure that voting for the 23 February polls is not disrupted by marauding pachyderms.
Election authorities are marking several booths as “sensitive” not from law and order point of view, but because they are vulnerable to possible attacks from elephants in the light of previous experiences.
Elephant threat to Meghalaya polls. Reuters
Elephant threat to Meghalaya polls. Reuters
Election officials today said a scenario like a herd of wild elephants moving dangerously near an election booth, chasing away election officials and destroying electronic voting machines is very much in the realm of possibility.
Chief Electoral Officer P Naik said forest guards would keep a watch during the elections in elephant-inhabited areas in certain pockets of Garo hills and districts of West Khasi Hills and Ri-Bhoi, bordering forests of Assam.
As of now, 194 booths, mostly in Garo hills region close to India-Bangladesh border, have been identified as ‘sensitive’ with reference to frequent tusker attacks, he said.
“Forest guards along with trained elephants of forest and wildlife department and their trainers will be at hand to drive away wild elephants and they will be helped by local tribesmen with drums and cymbals,” Principal Chief Conservator of Forests VK Natalya said.
While there was no recent attack on people in the sensitive areas identified, forest officials said encroachment of the animal territory by human settlements resulted in conflicting situation in which wild pachyderms come in contact with humans.
Meanwhile, poll officials said, 1,272 polling stations have been declared either Hyper Sensitive (HS) or Sensitive by Election Commission while only 1213 are declared normal of the total 2485 polling stations in the state, this time from the law and order point of view.
While 547 polling stations have been declared hyper sensitive due to militancy, 512 polling hyper sensitive was due to history of ethnic group clashes and others in such areas, they said.
A total of 213 polling stations have been declared sensitive due to clashes over personal matters and others situations, a poll official said.