All set for counting in Punjab, Chandigarh

Chandigarh, May 22 (PTI) Thirty-nine companies of central forces have been deployed for the security of EVMs at 21 locations across Punjab ahead of Thursday's counting of votes in the Lok Sabha elections, an official said Wednesday. Polling to all 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab and the lone constituency of Chandigarh was held on May 19. As many as 278 candidates, including 24 women, are in the fray in Punjab. Chief Electoral Officer S Karuna Raju said a three-tier security arrangement has been put in place at the counting centres, with the deployment of 39 companies of paramilitary forces. Typically, a company of paramilitary forces has around 100 security personnel. The counting of votes would begin at 8 am, Raju said. The voter turnout in Punjab was 65.96 per cent, almost five per cent lower than the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Of the 2.07 crore voters, 1.37 crore exercised their franchise in Punjab. The voter turnout in the Union Territory of Chandigarh was 70.62 per cent. With the voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) slips to be counted at five polling booths picked at random from each assembly segment, the final result for the 13 Lok Sabha seats is expected to be out after 9 pm. "VVPAT slips from five polling booths in each assembly segment will be counted and separate arrangements have been made for that. It is a manual job, so it will take time," Raju said while appealing to political parties and people to have patience for the final outcome. Punjab has 117 assembly segments and VVPAT slips from 585 polling booths will be counted. However, Raju said the counting for the Hoshiarpur constituency was expected to completed first as the number of candidates in the fray from the Lok Sabha seat were just eight, lowest among all 13 Lok Sabha constituencies. Among the prominent candidates whose fate is at stake are Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) chief Sukhbir Singh Badal, actor-turned-politician Sunny Deol, Union ministers Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Singh Puri and Congress heavyweights Sunil Jakhar, Preneet Kaur and Manish Tewari. From Chandigarh, BJP's Kirron Kher is seeking re-election against Congress nominee and former Union minister Pawan Kumar Bansal and AAP's Harmohan Dhawan. The prestige of Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh is also at stake as he had exuded the confidence of bagging all 13 seats in the state. The tension between Amarinder Singh and his cabinet colleague Navjot Singh Sidhu had also came out in the open after the latter raised question over the probe in the desecration of religious texts during electioneering in Bathinda. The poll outcome will also decide whether the SAD, which had faced a backlash over the desecration issue, would be able to make up for the lost ground. In the 2017 Assembly polls, the SAD was relegated to the third spot, bagging just 15 seats of the 117 assembly segments. The Sangrur Lok Sabha seat, from where AAP state unit chief Bhagwant Mann is contesting, seems to be the only hope for the party, which had surprised many by winning four seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in the state. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, While the SAD-BJP combine had won six seats, AAP and the Congress had bagged four and three seats, respectively. PTI CHS VSD RDK RDKRDK