Counting of votes for the seven-phase Lok Sabha elections began Thursday morning across the country.
The counting exercise is on in over 4,000 counting centres amid concerns raised by opposition parties over alleged tampering of EVMs. They have asked the Election Commission to ensure transparency in counting.
Election Commission officials said results are expected only by late evening.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, several union ministers, BJP chief Amit Shah, Congress president Rahul Gandhi and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi are among key leaders who contested the polls.
Most of the exit polls have predicted that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is on course to retain power for a second term.
However, the opposition parties have trashed results of the exit polls, claiming that the BJP will suffer severe drubbing due to rising unemployment, farm distress and slowdown in the economy.
The voting was staggered between April 11 and May 19 in which around 67 per cent of the nearly 900 million eligible people exercised their franchise to elect 542 members of the Lok Sabha from a total of 8,049 contestants.
In the 2014 elections, the BJP won 282 seats while the Congress had suffered a severe drubbing, getting an all-time low of 44 seats as against 206 it won in 2009.
For the first time in Lok Sabha polls, the EC will tally vote count on Electronic Voting Machines with voter verified paper audit trail slips in five polling stations in each assembly segment of a parliamentary constituency.
It will effectively mean that out of nearly 10.3 lakh polling stations, the EVM-VVPAT matching will take place in 20,600 such stations.
In case of a mismatch, the results based on paper slip count will be considered as final.
The entire exercise of EVM-paper trail machine matching will take an additional four to five hours, EC officials said.
They said the voting percentage of 67.11 this time was the highest ever-voter turnout in Indian parliamentary elections.
They said according to procedure, postal ballots would be the first to be counted.
The number of service voters stands at 18 lakh and these include personnel of the armed forces, central police force personnel and state police personnel who are posted outside their constituencies.
Diplomats and support staff posted in Indian embassies abroad are also counted as service voters.
Out of the 18 lakh registered voters, 16.49 lakh have sent their postal ballots to their respective returning officers as on May 17.
The exercise of counting postal ballots manually will itself take a couple of hours at least, an EC official said.
Out of the 543 Lok Sabha seats, elections were held in 542 constituencies as the EC had cancelled polls to the Vellore constituency on the ground of excessive use of money power.
The Union Home Ministry on Wednesday alerted all state chief secretaries and directors general of police about possibility of eruption of violence in different parts of the country during counting of votes.
"This is in the wake of calls given and statements made in various quarters for inciting violence and causing disruption on the day of counting of votes," a Home Ministry statement said.
It also asked states and UTs to take adequate measures for the security of strong rooms and venues of counting of votes.
Counting of votes across 24 centres in Jharkhand start
Counting for the 14 Lok Sabha seats in Jharkhand will begin at 8 am across 24 districts amid tight security, officials said.
The counting process and announcement of results, however, are expected to be delayed by several hours this time as the outcomes of five assembly segments per Lok Sabha constituency will be tallied with VVPAT slips, an Election Commission release said here Wednesday, quoting Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) L Khiangte.
EC sources said that the counting centers at Dumka, Godda, Hazaribag, Ranchi and Jamshepdur have been categorized as sensitive due to political and social reasons, adding, more security force would be deployed there.
Twenty companies of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), apart from thousands of state police personnel would be deployed to maintain law and order during the counting process, L Khiangte said.
In addition, 25 companies of state police will be deployed is the districts where counting is scheduled, the EC official said.
The counting process will start with postal ballots, he said.
Once the counting process (votes in EVMs) is completed, the voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) slips of five randomly selected assembly segments in every Lok Sabha constituency will be counted and compared with the EVM votes, the EC official said.
He said that all preparations are in place for the counting process, adding, approval from the ECI has been received for the counting places, counting halls and layout plans for all the counting rooms.
Elaborate security arrangements have been made for every counting centre, he said, adding central armed forces are continuously guarding the strongrooms.
The strongrooms will be opened in presence of candidates, agents and observers on the counting day (Thursday) and everything will be videographed.
An estimated 66.53 per cent of the total 2,24,04,179 electorate had cast their votes in the 14 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state. Elections were held in the state in four phases from April 29.
Among the electorate, there were 1,06,65,304 female and 231 third gender voters.
The polling percentage was 63.82 per cent in 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Polling in all the four phases passed off peacefully.
In all, 229 candidates, including 25 women, had been in the fray for the 14 Lok Sabha seats.
Counting of votes for Assembly seats of Andhra Pradesh to be held in 36 centres
A three-tier security cordon, with Central Armed Police Force personnel in the innermost perimeter, would maintain vigil at 36 centres in Andhra Pradesh where counting of votes for 25 Lok Sabha and 175 Assembly seats will be taken up Thursday.
Prohibitory orders under Section 144 CrPC have been clamped in 16 towns across the state where the centres are located.
In all 35 companies of CAPF, including CRPF and CISF, with 3,325 personnel are being deployed for security duty.
According to officials, 61 companies of AP Special Police (5,490 personnel) and over 15,000 state police personnel will also be on duty to prevent untoward incidents as results of the April 11 general election will be declared.
State Chief Electoral Officer Gopal Krishna Dwivedi told reporters 2.11 lakh postal ballots and 28,000 service votes have been received, which would be counted first at 8 am when the process begins.
He said 25,000 well-trained personnel would take part in the vote counting process across the state.
Dwivedi said five VVPATs each would be chosen separately for Assembly and Lok Sabha segments for random counting of slips.
"Counting of VVPATs is only for verification. If any EVM is stuck, the corresponding VVPAT slips should be counted," he added.
Director General of Police R P Thakur said prohibitory orders under the Police Act have been promulgated near all counting centres and important places to regulate processions and assembly of persons.
The DGP said 1200 body-worn cameras, 68 drones and 14,770 CCTV cameras were being used to closely monitor the counting process as well as people.
"We have also opened control rooms at the state police headquarters and district police headquarters with surveillance cameras to keep a tab on all developments and ensure law and order," Thakur added.
Rajasthan gears up for counting of votes
The counting of votes polled in 25 parliamentary seats in Rajasthan will take place on Thursday amid tight security.
Chief Electoral officer Anand Kumar said the counting of postal ballots, electronically transmitted postal ballots and the votes polled through electronic voting machines (EVMs) will begin at all the 25 centres at 8 am on Thursday.
He said a triple layered security arrangement has been made to thwart any kind of disruption.
The official said the latest trends of round-wise counting of all 25 parliamentary seats will be made available on the official website and displayed through LEDs at prominent locations.
Polling for 12 Lok Sabha seats in Rajasthan was held on May 6. Thirteen seats in the state had gone to the polls on April 29.
In the 2014 parliamentary polls, the BJP had swept the state by bagging all the 25 seats.