Voting for local elections underway in India's Punjab, Uttar Pradesh

NEW DELHI, Feb. 20 (Xinhua) -- Voting for local elections is underway in two Indian states of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, officials said Sunday.

Voters queue up to cast their ballot at a polling station in a village on the outskirts of Amritsar on February 20, 2022, during the Punjab state assembly elections. (Photo: AFP)

The voting, which began in the morning in all poll-bound states, will continue until 6:00 p.m. local time.

According to the Election Commission of India (ECI), voting will be completed in a single phase in Punjab. However, Uttar Pradesh will be witnessing the third phase of the seven-phase staggered elections.

Authorities have provided all the necessary facilities and security arrangements to ensure free and fair polling in the poll-bound states.

"In today's phase, 59 constituencies spread across 16 districts of Uttar Pradesh are voting. Simultaneously, polling for assembly elections for 117 seats in Punjab is also being held in the single-phase," an election official said. "Reports pouring in from all the poll-bound states say voting is going on peacefully."

Officials say in view of the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic and new cases of the Omicron variant across the country, ECI has laid focus on COVID-safe elections.

"The COVID-19 patients, who are quarantined, will be allowed to cast their vote at the last hour of the poll day at their respective polling stations, under the supervision of health authorities in strict adherence to COVID-19 appropriate protocol," the official said. "Proper mechanism of collection and disposal of waste or used gloves has been put in place at each polling station."

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has appealed to voters in the poll-bound states to vote in large numbers.

"The Punjab elections and the third phase of the Uttar Pradesh elections are being held today. I call upon all those voting today to do so in large numbers, particularly the youth as well as first-time voters," Modi wrote on social media.

The counting will take place on March 10.