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Friday , May 6 , 2016
 
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In search of New Town booths 

- Brinda Sarkar tries to reach polling stations in the rural backyard and gives up mid-way

A dusty unmetalled road leading into a village on the left where residents from the highrises near Eco Urban Village were to walk to in order to cast their votes. Picture by Shubham Paul

After 20 minutes of travelling through narrow lanes with ponds, cows and brick huts on either side, I wondered if residents of upscale New Town apartments would really take the effort and come all the way to vote here, in the middle of nowhere.
It was April 25 — Election Day — and our photographer, driver and I were headed to Jatragachhi High School, where a resident of Sunrise Greens had told us the local booth was. Like most residents of New Town, she was wasn’t voting there herself as her name was still listed at her previous address. 

To reach the school, we had entered a lane near the Harley Davidson showroom on the Major Arterial Road (MAR). There was just one metalled road to follow, along which children played and women in nightdresses washed clothes under tubewells. There were pedestrians and cyclists but no cars. 

We stopped at a teashop to ask if we were on the right track but decided against it when we saw the folk sitting there — scruffy, bike-borne men in brightly coloured tight T-shirts. They looked like the “outsiders” conspicuous by their absence from Salt Lake booths that day.

We drove ahead and asked some students for directions. After 10 minutes, we reached Jatragachhi High School, only to see a shiny padlock hanging from its gate. 

We were crestfallen and upon asking residents learnt that the booth was at Jatragachi Primary School, another confusing set of directions away! 

Luckily we spotted an SUV with jawans inside and started following it, sure that it was headed to the booth. Within a minute, the SUV stopped and the men alighted. But there was no school around, rather an empty field. “Toilet,” grinned our photographer knowingly, as I slapped my forehead. 

Our driver — who was on the phone — wasn’t alert enough to stop. He overtook the Sumo and went ahead, even taking a random turn at will. Before we could ask him to stop we spotted the MAR. “Enough,” we thought, and headed back to civilisation.

If we tried and failed at reaching the booths, many voters from the highrises didn’t even venture that way, uneasy about finding their way in the rural backyard. “My booth is in a village school that I only visited once when getting the EPIC card formalities done,” said Suvechhya Pal, a resident of Hiland Willows that is near Eco Urban Village. “The atmosphere is never safe on poll day plus the area is unchartered territory for me. If something went wrong in the booth I wouldn’t even know how to return so I didn’t go. I would have surely voted if the booth was in an urban area.”

We had tried going to Pal’s booth too but halfway down thought our car might not survive the rocky terrain and so turned back. 

“Our booth was 3km away from our complex,” said Sandwip Kumar Seal, secretary of Moonbeam Housing Project residents’ association. His complex is near the eight-point crossing on the MAR. “Cars couldn’t travel beyond a point, no public transport was available that day and people couldn’t walk so much in this heat. As far as I know, only two people went to vote from our complex.”

Not all New Town booths were in the rural areas but those that were, were either a detriment or a novelty. 

“I posted a picture of myself outside my booth on Facebook along with the caption: ‘Voting in rural India’,” smiled Piyali Mukherjee, a US-returned resident of Hiland Willows, who was voting after nearly 15 years. “The approach to the booth had ponds, trees and unmetalled roads: a far cry from urban New Town. I found the place interesting.”

Mukherjee believes her husband and she were the only ones from their complex to go vote. “But once we reached we had no problems. The people there were quite friendly,” she said. “Still I hope the next time we go to vote, the gap reduces between rural and urban New Town.”

Was access to polling booths a problem in New Town? 
Write to The Telegraph Salt Lake, 6, Prafulla Sarkar Street, Calcutta 700001. Email: [email protected]


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