Chandigarh: Casting of votes started across 19,841 polling stations in Punjab's 117 assembly seats at 8 a.m. on Monday, Election Commission (EC) officials said here.

Despite the winter chill, some polling booths, especially in rural areas, saw people lined up for voting before the booths were officially opened. In most parts of the state, it was a bright and sunny day.

In Jalandhar, voters started queuing up around 7.30 a.m itself despite the cold.In Badal village, the ancestral village of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, villagers started arriving at the polling station before 8 a.m.Over 73,000 security personnel, including 200 companies of paramilitary forces, have been deployed to ensure smooth and peaceful polling.

The fate of 1,078 candidates, including 417 independents and 93 women, will be decided by the over 1.76 crore eligible voters.The main contest is between the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance and the opposition Congress. A third front, Sanjha Morcha, has been formed recently and is led by former finance minister Manpreet Badal's newly floated People's Party of Punjab (PPP).

Five assembly constituencies -- Patiala, Lambi, Bholath, Majithia and Jalalabad -- have been declared hyper-sensitive while 33 constituencies have been declared sensitive by the EC.

The total number of voters in the state are 17,683,559 out of which 8,361,014 are women voters.The highest number of candidates, 16 each, are in the Jalalabad, Ludhiana-east and Patiala rural seats.

 The lowest number of candidates, four, are in fray in the Attari seat in border area of Amritsar district.Parkash Singh Badal is facing his toughest political test as he faces his own younger brother, Gurdas Badal, 81, of the PPP and cousin Maheshinder Singh Badal of the Congress in a bitter triangular contest.Punjab Congress president Amarinder Singh is seeking re-election from the Patiala Urban seat while Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is also the deputy chief minister, is seeking re-election from the Jalalabad seat in Faridkot district.Other prominent leaders in the fray include PPP president Manpreet Badal (Gidderbaha and Maur), former chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal (Congress, Lehragana seat) and Amarinder's son Raninder Singh (Congress, Samana seat).In the 2007 assembly polls, the Akali Dal had 49 legislators with alliance partner BJP winning another 19 seats (total tally 68). The Congress had 44 legislators while five seats were won by independents.

Voting begins in Uttarakhand

Polling commenced on Monday in 70 Assembly constituencies in Uttarakhand amid tight security with over 60 lakh voters expected to exercise their franchise in the single-phased elections.

Over 63 lakh electorates will decide the fate of 788 candidates with the top contenders from the ruling BJP and Congress contesting all the 70 seats.

Top state leaders, including chief minister B C Khanduri from Kotdwar, former chief minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank from Doiwala, Leader of Opposition Harak Singh Rawat from Rudraprayag and PCC chief Yashpal Arya from Baajpur seats will try their luck at the polls.

Polling commenced at 0800 hrs and would end at 1700 hrs, Uttarakhand Chief Electoral Officer Radha Raturi said.

She said elaborate arrangements have been made for smooth conduct of polling and all the personnel deployed in high-altitude areas have been provided with sleeping bags, snow-boot and jackets.

An Indian Airforce helicopter has also been stationed at Sarsawa as part of rescue efforts to meet with any eventuality, Raturi added.

She said 9744 polling booths have been set up across the state out of which 1794 stations have been declared as "sensitive" and 1252 as "hyper-sensitive".

A total of 75 companies of Central paramilitary force besides 10,000 home guards from Uttar Pradesh, 2000 home guards from Himachal Pradesh and 10,000 personnel from Uttarakhand Police have been deployed for the polls.

Raturi said nearly Rs 1.40 crore in cash has so far been seized in various parts of the state.

Apart from it, nearly 14,000 litres of liquor was also seized during the period, she said, adding 103 cases of violation of election code of conduct were also registered against various candidates in the state.

All government, non-government offices, schools, colleges, industrial establishments and shops have been asked to remain closed on Monday, the official said.

(Agencies)