Arunachal Pradesh poll team walks 3 days to town

Forced to take detour via leech-infested jungles after miscreants cut off hanging bridges

Tasi Darang had planned for a week-long assignment when on April 22 he was tasked to serve as the security officer for the repoll at Zara in western Arunachal Pradesh. He had already factored in the two days that the team would need for trekking from and to Pipsorang, the nearest administrative centre.

On Monday, after almost a month, his team deposited the EVMs containing the votes of almost all the 492 voters of Zara and adjoining hamlets at the intermediary strongroom in Ziro, headquarters of Lower Subansiri district and located to the southeast of Zara instead of Koloriang, the headquarters of Kurung Kumey district and closer by in terms of distance and to the southwest.

Zara is part of the Tali Assembly constituency in Kra-Daadi district. But the Deputy Commissioner of Kurung Kumey, out of which Kra-Daadi — bordering China — was carved out in February 2015, is the District Electoral Officer for the district. Weather and the risk of encountering miscreants looking to snatch the EVMs both delayed the team’s departure from Zara and forced a detour before they succeeded in depositing the machines at a strongroom, even if this was miles from the one they were supposed to go to.

“In Arunachal Pradesh, distance is measured by how much time one takes in climbing and descending from a hill,” Mr. Darang, the Sub-Divisional Police Officer at Miao in Changlang district, told The Hindu on Tuesday. “We went up and down three mountains to reach Zara from Pipsorang in nine hours on April 25. We took almost the same time on April 28 to go back to Pipsorang,” he added.

For the next 18 days, the team waited for the helicopter to take them back to Kra-Daadi’s district headquarters at Palin, from where they had been ferried to Pipsorang on April 24. Finally, on May 16, when they realised the helicopter could not come because of non-stop rain, they decided to walk. Depleting rations was also a key reason: they had to depend on a handful of rice and boiled leaves and sparsely-stocked shops that sold aerated drinks for ₹500 a bottle, while salt cost ₹250 a kg.

Dense jungles

But instead of taking the normal trek route, the team went the opposite way through dense jungles where “even mithuns (a local bovine) don’t go”. Wireless messages that armed miscreants were lying in wait to ambush and snatch the EVMs had forced their hand.

“We could have ignored the warning, but seven, eight hanging bridges along the route had been cut to prevent our team from reaching Palin,” Mr. Darang said.

Walking up to 20 hours a day across nine hills, they reached Jikke village in Lower Subansiri district on May 18.

“We collected water on banana leaves, had half-cooked food,” Mr. Darang said. “There were at least 20 leeches in each of our boots,” he added

“Completing our mission on Monday was a huge relief,” Mr. Darang added.

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