The East Singhbhum district administration has pledged to put in some extra effort to make all its polling booths friendly for the differently abled in the run-up to the Lok Sabha battle.
Nearly 800 of the Jamshedpur constituency’s total 1,626 election stations (schools, community halls and government establishments) do not feature permanent ramps and railings, while most that do have these provisions for special voters need urgent repairs ahead of the April 17 mass spectacle — a task that may seem Herculean.
According to district election cell statistics, of the total 15 lakh-odd electorate, around 15,000 suffer from physical inadequacies or visual challenges. And most of them did not have a pleasant experience while exercising their franchise during past elections.
Dipak Kumar Srivastava (35), the secretary of Jharkhand Viklang Sangathan (JVS) and resident of Telco, had to be carried by his brother because he could not climb the stairs at the Gulmohur High School polling booth.
“I had my crutches, but the steps were too steep for me. Fortunately, my younger brother had the strength to carry me to the voting room. There were many others in wheelchairs who could not vote because the booth had no ramp,” said Srivastava.
He pointed out that many other polling stations such as RMS High School in Khuntadih and even the elite Loyola School, whose first floor is used as a booth, ignored the very basic need of a disabled voter.
“Special people like us do not have an option in such a case other than to return home. And this despite a Supreme Court directive on October 5, 2007, asking the Election Commission to build ramps and ensure separate queues for differently abled voters,” Srivastava added.
EC observer for Jamshedpur Biak Tluanga, who is an IAS officer from the Mizoram cadre, visited various polling booths on Wednesday to assess ground realities. He has asked returning officer-cum-deputy commissioner Amitabh Kaushal to make temporary ramps at each and every voting station.
Dhalbhum SDO and assistant electoral officer for Jamshedpur Prem Ranjan said they are aware of the order and would construct wooden ramps soon. “Officials concerned have been directed to ensure that every booth that does not have a permanent ramp must have a temporary one by April 14,” he added.
Shadow of doubt
Special voters refuse to buy the promise.
“Going by our past experiences, it is unlikely that all polling booths will have ramps. We had had tough time during the 2011 Jamshedpur bypoll. The EC seems not too serious in implementing the SC order. Else, a PIL would not have been filed in Madras High Court,” pointed out Arun Kumar Singh, a resident of Laxminagar in Telco who is physically challenged.
A Madurai-based advocate had recently filed the PIL, seeking ramps at polling booths in Tamil Nadu.
EC’s senior counsel G. Rajagopalan filed a reply on Wednesday, stating that circulars had been sent to all chief electoral officers on the same. The reply of the EC counsel further states that personnel at polling stations must ensure that differently abled voters are given priority in queues.