Ramps, other arrangements found missing in many polling stations
JAMMU, Oct 8: There was no strict compliance to the directives of the Supreme Court and Election Commission of India about facilities for disabled and infirm voters during the Phase-1 of the Urban Local Bodies elections held in twelve districts spread across the three regions of the State today.
Due to this, these categories of the voters faced immense difficulties in exercising their democratic right in large number of polling stations not only in peripheral areas but in main towns too.
Official sources told EXCELSIOR that the Supreme Court of India, in a Writ Petition (Civil) No.187 of 2004 titled Disabled Rights Group Versus the Chief Election Commissioner and Another, passed several directions vide judgment dated October 5, 2017 to the Election Commission of India on various aspects relating to providing facilities to persons with disabilities to exercise their franchise in the elections.
The Supreme Court, while taking note of the instructions issued by the Election Commission from time to time regarding the facilities to be provided to the electors with disability, had directed that it should be ensured that these instructions are followed effectively.
In compliance to the judgment of the Apex Court of the country, the Election Commission of India vide communication No.509/110/2004-JS-I dated October 26, 2007 drew the attention of Chief Electoral Officers of all the States towards the order passed by the Supreme Court with the directions for implementation of the same in letter and spirit.
The Election Commission of India had stressed for issuing specific instructions to all the election authorities for ensuring that all necessary assistance as may be required should be provided to disabled electors at all the polling stations in all future elections. Moreover, it was directed that in the polling stations where permanent ramps have not been provided, temporary ramps should be provided as per the order of the Supreme Court.
“The polling personnel should permit a companion to accompany disabled and infirm elector to assist him/her to exercise franchise and all necessary support should be provided to them at the polling stations. Moreover, these facilities for persons with disability and infirm should be given wide publicity so as to motivate them to exercise their franchise”, read the instructions of the Election Commission of India dated October 26, 2007.
However, there was no strict compliance to ensuring ramp and other facilities for disabled and infirm voters in large number of polling stations in main towns and their peripheral areas. In a polling station in Channi Himmat, a lady was seen struggling to enter the polling booth to cast her vote as facility of ramp was not made available by the concerned authorities at the polling station.
Similarly, a physically challenged person was seen lifted to a polling booth situated in Old University Campus by his family member in the absence of wheel chair facility although Election Commission instructions say that all necessary support shall be provided to the voters, who require special assistance.
In several polling stations in other districts the infirm and disabled voters were seen facing immense difficulties in entering the polling booths because of non-availability of required facilities particularly the ramps.
As per the reports, the ramps were particularly missing in those polling booths which were set-up in the establishments of Public Health Engineering, Rural Development, Housing and Urban Development and other departments of the Government. This arrangement was also missing in the booths set-up in private buildings or temporary structures raised by the authorities involved in the election process.
Admitting this, a senior officer, on the condition of anonymity, said, “we tried our level best to ensure compliance to the directives of the Supreme Court and Election Commission of India but at the same time it is a fact that ramp and other facilities were missing in polling stations set-up in the offices of PHE, Rural Development, Housing and Urban Development and other departments”.
No doubt elderly, infirm and disabled voters were enthusiastic to exercise their democratic right even after facing difficulties but the concerned authorities should have made arrangements for their smooth entry to the polling stations and booths, said polling agents of the contesting candidates, adding “minor extra expenditure on this aspect should not have been a concern for the election authorities”.