New Delhi, March 10 (IANS) The much awaited Lok Sabha elections will be held in seven phases from April 11 to May 19 and the millions of votes will be counted on May 23, it was announced on Sunday.
Calling the Indian parliamentary battle the "largest festival of democracy", Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said the polling will be held on April 11, 18, 23 and 29 and on May 6, 12 and 19.
The votes will be counted on and the results declared on May 23, he told a crowded press conference.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the first to welcome the announcement. He sought people's "blessings" for a second term for his government.
"The Election Commission has attempted a very comprehensive preparation for the conduct of the election", Arora said. "The panel believes that purity of electoral roll is the foundation of fair elections."
In the first phase, 91 constituencies spread across 20 states and union territories will go to the polls on April 11 followed by 97 constituencies (13 states and UTs) on April 18.
The third phase on April 23 will involve 115 constituencies (14 states, UTs) followed by 71 constituencies (nine states) on April 29. The fifth stage on May 6 will see 51 constituencies (7 states), 59 constituencies (7 states, UTs) on May 12 and the final stage will be held on May 19 covering 59 constituencies (8 states, UTs).
Arora said the total number of electors will be around 900 million, up from 814.5 million since the last election in 2014 that brought Modi to power at the head of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, ending a decade of Congress rule.
Of the total, some 15 million will be first-time voters (18 to 19 years).
There will be 10 lakh polling stations as compared to 9 lakh in 2014. VVPATS will used in all the polling stations, Arora said.
Without disclosing the number, he said "a large number of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs)" will be deployed for the polls and justified breaking up some states into many rounds from the security point of view.
He said a sufficient number of video cameras and CCTVs besides web-casting will be used during the electoral battle.
"There will be extensive web-casting of sensitive voting booths. All critical events will be videographed."
With the announcement of the poll schedule, the Model Code of Conduct also came into effect across the country.
Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal will see staggered elections spread over all seven phases.
A total of 22 states and union territories will see single-phase election; Karnataka, Manipur, Rajasthan and Tripura will see polling in two phases; Assam and Chhattisgarh will have three-phase polling; Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Odisha will see four-phase polling while troubled Jammu and Kashmir will have five-phase elections.
The places where elections will take place in a single phase are Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Punjab, Sikkim, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Daman and Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Lakshadweep, Chandigarh, Delhi and Puducherry.