Gorakhpur (UP):  Encephalitis, which claims hundreds of lives every year in this part of eastern Uttar Pradesh, has emerged as a major concern for voters.

Coupled with the havoc created by floods almost every alternate year and the closure of several sugar mills in neighbouring Deoria and Kushinagar districts, major poll issues for the past several years, locals in the Gorakhpur division feel that no immediate solution is in sight.

"Encephalitis is now in the election manifesto of major political parties as they understand that this issue is now emotive than ever...political will now will ensure that a solution is found," Javed Ahmed, who runs a shoe store near the famed Gorakhnath temple, says.

Between 1978 and 2011, the Baba Raghav Das (BRD) medical college here recorded over 30,000 deaths due to Encephalitis. Officials admit that the figure could be much more as several deaths in Primary Health Centres (PHCs) and villages often go unnoticed.

"After years, we have brought down deaths due to Japanese Encephalitis (JE).

The major killer now is Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) which is carried by contaminated water," local BJP MP Yogi Adityanath says.

"The Group of Ministers on Encephalitis have prepared a plan which could come into force after the model code of conduct ends,” he says, alleging that the Union Health Ministry has readied the plan only after it termed the disease as a local issue.

The opening up of an 'Epidemic ward' at the BRD hospital is an admission that the disease has taken epidemic proportions, which cannot be ignored by the Centre, he claims.

However, locals hope that the situation will improve in the future.

On last Children's day, a doctor had launched a drive to sensitise voters on making Encephalitis a major poll plank.

It bore fruits, but as local T V journalist Rohit Singh says, it is feared that "in the end, people may cast their ballot on religious and caste lines, defeating the whole exercise."

The issue of recurring floods is another major concern for voters in Gorakhpur division's 29 assembly seats, which will exercise their franchise on February 11.

Water released in Rapti river by neighbouring Nepal floods hectares of cultivated land every second year. Those affected feel a long-term plan is necessary in helping them get a fair compensation for lost crop and property.

Also, there were 14 sugar mills running in Deoria and Kushinagar till a few years ago. The number has reduced to only one private mill.

"It is a loss for the farmers as well as the people working in the mills...once considered the sugar bowl of eastern UP, sugarcane production is now a loss making proposition," Bhim Sainthwar, a farmer in Deoria, says.

Issues like new roads and construction of flyovers, something which can reduce both travel time and fuel costs, are concerns for the voters of the division.

For the residents of Gorakhpur, the now closed IFFCO factory, whose campus is currently being used by the Shastra Seema Bal (SSB), is an important issue.

Power cuts are also a major problem for people living in this part of UP.

 "We have power plants. But we don't get power supply. We are now used to the noise created by diesel power generators," Ashwini, who runs a garment showroom in the busy Gol Ghar area, says.

"The Centre and the state government will have to pitch in together. It needs massive investment and planning," Raj Narain Pasi, Congress candidate from Khajni (reserved) seat, says.

(Agencies)