A security guard walks out of a deserted model booth in AD Block in the afternoon.
Picture by Sudeshna Banerjee
Thirty polling booths in Salt Lake were declared model booths this year. Best identified by pink-and-white balloons put up inside and a signage outside, proclaiming each to be a model booth, these stations were supposed to have had some amenities more than the average booths.
According to an Election Commission official, model booths were to have adequate seating arrangements for voters on the polling premises, ramps for easy access of the physically challenged, drinking water in the form of 20-litre jars and pouches for polling officials and voters as well as well-ventilated stations. Twenty of these 30 model stations were manned by women as presiding and polling officers.
The model booths also had prominent signs specifying the booth number and the names of the presiding and polling officers on duty. The officers at these 30 booths were also given special kits by the Election Commission comprising snacks, toothbrush, toothpaste, mug and bucket. They were also handed out bed-sheets and mattresses to make their stay at the booths more comfortable.
But in some booths, the ground reality was markedly different. While the women personnel on duty at the Administrative Training Institute in FD Block worked in air-conditioned comfort and had also slept well the night before, their male colleagues at FE Block Municipality School were not so lucky.
Decked in pink and white balloons, the FE Block booth was supposed to be a “model booth”. But the personnel inside flared up on learning of the special status. “Model? Really? Look at that fan. Even that is not working,” said Supratim Bhoumik, a primary school teacher from Sodepur, pointing to one of the four fans in the room.
Their ordeal had started from the night before. “Last night, there was a power-cut at 1am. We thought since this is a posh area, electricity would be back in five-10 minutes. But it lasted for two hours. Apparently our phase was out. We had little sleep all night,” said Abhijit Parui, a Chandernagore resident working at Ichhapore Rifle Factory.
If this wasn’t enough, the stench in the toilet could be smelt from 10-ft away and the flow from the tap was a trickle. “We could not bathe properly,” he added.
That morning, they walked 1km to GD Market in search of tea. But their hopes for a lunch of roti tadka were dashed. “Our messenger could get us only egg roll. Everything was closed. The polling agents took pity on us and shared their fried rice,” Bhoumik said.
“The only model elements here are a lack of mosquitoes and the friendly ambience in the booth,” they summed up.
Presiding officer Kamal Das, a municipal staff from Ashoknagar, Barasat, chose to be philosophical. “This is my eighth vote.
I have seen much worse. Even this time, many of our colleagues have been posted in clubs used as polling booths. They did not even have a proper place to spend the night.”