Why is Telangana’s Nizamabad going for ballot paper voting?

Gujarat, by-polls, Gandhinagar, 2 Rajya Sabha seats, Lok Sabha elections, Assembly, MLAs
Elections to fill the seats were held on March 14 and the counting of ballot papers lasted till Saturday evening.

A piquant situation has arisen in Telangana’s Nizamabad Lok Sabha constituency, from where Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s daughter K Kavitha is seeking re-election, with a large number of protesting farmers filing their nominations and refusing to budge.

As many as 185 candidates, including 178 farmers, remain in the fray for the April 11 election. This has forced the Election Commission to go for ballot papers across the constituency as the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) can be used for a maximum of 64 candidates.

The turmeric and red sorghum farmers filed their nominations en masse to highlight their problems. All necessary arrangements are being made to conduct the polling using ballot papers, the state Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Rajath Kumar said.

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Months of protest

For several months, farmers in Nizamabad district, which borders Maharashtra, have been agitating, demanding remunerative prices for turmeric and red sorghum crops. But, their plight has gone largely unnoticed. The Telangana Kisan Congress chairperson Sunketa Anvesh Reddy, who has been spearheading the agitation, accused all the major parties of failing to come to the rescue of farmers. “We are left with no option other than choosing the ballot route to register our protest,” he said.

Kavitha, who is fighting the election on behalf of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), has pushed the blame on the NDA government. “I have been sincerely working for the welfare of farmers in my constituency. I made several representations to the central government for setting up of a turmeric board. I have introduced a private member’s bill in the Parliament as well. The Centre has been callous and unresponsive,” she said.

Nizamabad is a key hub for turmeric production in India. The farmers say that the investment per quintal works out to ₹9,000 but they get less than ₹4,500 per quintal from traders. They have been demanding that the government intervene in the market and ensure remunerative price for the produce.

The constitution of a turmeric board has been a long-standing demand. As part of the agitation, farmers held protest rallies and staged a march to Hyderabad to bring their problem to the government’s notice.

Unwieldy problem

A large number of contestants being in the fray will pose logistic problems for the Election Commission. One EVM can accommodate 16 names and the control unit can record the voting of only four such EVMs linked together. This means each control unit can register a maximum of 64 candidates.

This is reminiscent of a situation that the poll panel had to face in the 1996 Lok Sabha elections in Nalgonda constituency, when a record number of 480 candidates filed their nominations as a mark of protest against the lack of safe drinking water for the fluoride-affected villages of the district. The EC had to requisition a jumbo-sized ballot paper instead of EVMs to facilitate polling. Most of the independents were sponsored by the Jala Sadhana Samithi, a farmers’ organisation which had launched an agitation for early implementation of Srisailam Left Bank Canal project and drinking water supply scheme for fluoride-affected villages.

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