There are 3,147 polling booths scattered across the lush, forested areas known for their abundant wildlife and tea gardens. The district, comprising Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar Parliamentary constituencies in the northern part of West Bengal, is abuzz with the Election Commission of India's Systematic Voter Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) activities.

Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar, alongside Darjeeling and Cooch Behar constituencies go to the hustings April 17, heralding the first phase of polls in the state. A special awareness campaign is being run through a routine dairy product - milk pouches.Inked in black-and-white are messages like `Let's Vote', `Voting is our Right' that are displayed on the pouches next to the prices.

“So far 8,000 packets have been put out with the message in the last two days. We will continue till the polling day," said Lopsang Tamang, officer-in-charge SVEEP Cell, Jalpaiguri. The difficulty, he pointed out, is that the majority do not opt for packaged milk.

However, the tools which have achieved maximum success are the use of posters in the local newspapers and videos on local cable network. Posters are also handed out to youngsters in shopping malls.

"The chief electoral officer's and district electoral officer's messages are circulated through newspapers. Bytes of the officials are shown on cable television channels in local dialects," Tamang said, adding there are as many as 12 such dialects and youngsters are a key target.

Known for the three Ts - tea, timber and tourism - the district recorded a voter turnout of 79.6 percent in the last Parliamentary elections in 2009 and officials are expecting an increase of five to seven percent this year.

It has a high percentage of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and a significant proportion of the population resides in tea gardens and forested stretches.

Slightly more than 30 percent of the district is under tea gardens and officials haven't forgotten the workers.

"We have prepared special audio-visuals in languages like Nepali, Rava and Hindi. CDs are being distributed to the workers and inhabitants of the forested stretches to encourage them to participate," said Binay Sikdar, additional district magistrate, Jalpaiguri.

Additionally, a tableau promoting ethical voting that was flagged off two weeks ago has been traversing the district spanning an area of 6,245 square kilometres. SVEEP teams specially created for Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) awareness have made a mark with college-goers, said Tamang.

(Agencies)

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