The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rs 25 too steep for a voter card

Feb. 21: Abandoned by her husband, Rezina Bibi lives with her 12-year-old son on an encroached land in a village near Behrampore.

As domestic help in two houses in the town, she earns about Rs 600 a month.

When officials engaged in the revision of electoral rolls arrived at her doorstep she told them her voter I-card had been nibbled away by rats. The officials asked her to get a replacement for Rs 25. She refused.

'I can't even arrange two square meals a day for my son. What use is a voter card for me' I can't spare Rs 25 for it,' Rezina, 45, said.

Faced with poverty and ignorance about the value of a photo identity card, about 30,000 genuine voters in Nadia and Murshidabad have refused to seek replacements for those they have lost.

For most of them Rs 25 ' cost of a duplicate card fixed by the Election Commission ' is too heavy a price for a 'piece of paper'.

Fifty-year-old widow Mariam Bewa of Gangadhari village of Naoda in Murshidabad, 230 km from Calcutta, lost her card when a portion of her house collapsed during the last monsoon. Her two sons, aged 18 and 20, work in the fields as daily labourers and earn about Rs 50 everyday.

'Getting three cards for Rs 75 is out of question. What will I do with them' Elections are not important for me. After my house collapsed in the rain, I managed to save a photograph of my husband with great difficulty,' Mariam, who never attended school, told district officials when they asked her to get a new card.

Aksar Biswas's children ' between six and 12 years old ' lost his card about a year ago while they were playing with it outside their house at Hajaripota in Kaligunj, Nadia, 140 km from Calcutta.

'I earn about Rs 30 a day and that income is also not assured. What can I do if my children lose them while playing' the 40-year-old farm worker asked.

Try telling them that the card is important not just for casting votes but for opening bank/post office savings accounts and to apply for loans under central schemes like the Indira Abas Yojna and they stare blankly. For the likes of Aksar and Mariam to look beyond that day is a tall order.

The district magistrates admitted that poor villagers were not interested in getting replacements for lost cards and put the blame on both poverty and ignorance. They had proposed to the commission that the 'extremely poor' be spared the replacement fee.

'But the EC informed us that there is no such provision,' said N. Manjunatha Prasad, the Murshidabad district magistrate.

The Nadia district magistrate said: 'During the rolls revision, many could not even say whether they had the cards at all. Some said they used to have the cards but were unsure if they still had them.'

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