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Poll rolls block out many

Six out of seven members of a New Alipore joint family who hadn’t missed an election in decades returned from their polling station on Monday without a dab of indelible ink on a finger.

Saswati Mookherjee, 59, had reached the polling station at Bidya Bharati Girls’ High School, near Majherhat bridge, at 9.30am with husband Parthasarathi, 66, only to find the word “deletion” stamped next to their names on the voters’ list.

“This is baffling. We had voted here in 2009 and 2011 without any problem, so we didn’t feel the need to check our status online beforehand,” Saswati said.

The only one among the Mookherjees who could vote was the youngest adult in the group. Saswati and Parthasarathi’s Bangalore-based daughter Smita had flown in to exercise her franchise in the city for the first time.

For the rest of the family, who share a four-storey house close to BP Poddar Hospital, any hope of being allowed to vote vanished when the presiding officer checked with the Election Commission’s control room and confirmed that their names were on a separate list of “deleted voters”.

“We are not bogus voters. We have been voting in this polling station for decades. We asked the presiding officer how such a major discrepancy could have occurred but got no reply,” Parthasarathi said.

Saswati visited the polling station a second time around 4pm after seeing off her daughter at the airport but it didn’t help. “My only question is: who do we approach for a proper explanation in a situation like this ?” she said.

Long after the Mookherjees had left the polling centre, Rakhi Dhurka, a resident of New Alipore’s Block H learnt that she had been omitted from the voters’ list. “All my family members voted but when my turn came, I was told that my name had been deleted. We had voted together in 2009, so why was I singled out?” she demanded to know.

There were no photographs next to 90 per cent of the names against which the word “deletion” had been stamped on the list available with the first polling officer. Only the voter ID card numbers were mentioned.

A polling officer said those whose names had been deleted probably hadn’t updated their personal information or provided photographs during the drive last January for updation of the voters’ lists.

Unlike most of the 50-odd polling stations in Calcutta South that Metro visited, Bidya Bharati Girls’ High School had around 30 people milling around the Election Commission’s desk even at 1pm to check their status on the rolls or seek an explanation for their names being deleted. Sources said 100-odd people were forced to return from the polling station without voting.

Savita Nijhawar, an 85-year-old voter who had travelled all the way from Salt Lake to Jodhpur Park Boys’ School to vote, was among those whose names were missing or deleted from the rolls elsewhere in town.

An official of the Election Commission said from Delhi that citizens had been reminded repeatedly to check their status during the revision of electoral rolls. The last date for Calcutta was March 25.

“The commission had undertaken this major exercise of updating the electoral rolls ahead of the Lok Sabha polls and every voter whose details were missing from the rolls had been reminded time and again to do the needful by meeting booth-level officers.”

According to him, those who found their names missing from the rolls on Monday wouldn’t have faced the problem had they checked their status earlier. “As a matter of policy, the commission has been deleting names without photographs, invariably after repeated reminders to submit a photograph each,” he said.

Parthasarathi said nobody from the Election Commission had visited his home during the updation process. “We all work and if someone did come calling when we were out, how are we supposed to know about it?”

In Mumbai, hundreds of voters, including high-profile names such as lawyer Ram Jethmalani and HDFC Bank chief Deepak Parekh, discovered on the day of polling that their names had been deleted from the rolls.

The Election Commission responded to the complaints with a reminder that the onus was on voters to look up their names on its website in advance and report omissions, if any. “The voter needs to be aware and not leave it till the last minute,” a senior official of the Election Commission had said in the aftermath of the hue and cry over Jethmalani not being allowed to vote.