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Times of India
14 October 2009
Pune, India

Most Polling Booths Were Not Equipped With Facilities For Disabled
Paraplegic soldiers at a polling booth in Khadki on Tuesday Paraplegic soldiers at a polling booth in Khadki on Tuesday
It seems free and fair elections are still a distant dream. When it comes to the right of people with disabilities, despite instructions issued by the Election Commission, they are not being followed in the letter and the spirit.

During the polling day on Tuesday, several polling booths in the city had no facilities in place when it comes to the differently–abled.

There are about seven crore physically–challenged in India. Among them, about four to five crore are eligible to vote. There are around 16 lakh disabled in the state and among them nine lakh are eligible to vote.

However, only a few of them actually venture into the polling booths to exercise their rights, as most of them are discouraged by the lack of accessibility to the polling booths, among other things.

A visit to any random polling booths is sufficient to observe that there are no adequate ramps, sign boards or attendants to help the disabled. Neither are there separate queues for the disabled.

In an affidavit, dated April 23, 2007, the Supreme Court had passed an order directing the Election Commission to make the following provisions: good quality permanent ramps in all polling stations to enable disabled persons to have an easy access; introduction of new Electronic Voting Machines containing Braille numerals by the side of the ballot buttons to assist the visuallyimpaired; polling stations to have separate queues for disabled people and sensitise poll personnel about the special needs of the disabled and to be courteous to them.

However, ground reality is different. P V Chhetri, a paraplegic who was in Assam Rifles and who came to cast his vote at the Range Hills Primary School in Khadki, said: “It’s difficult to come all the way from the Paraplegic.

Rehabilitation Centre to this school for casting the vote. Neither their is any attendant to help you at the gate. The slope at the main gate of the school makes it difficult to get in.”

Another voter, E G Korde, a paraplegic from the military police, added, “We deserve to be treated well. Though they have provided ramp at this booth, it is difficult to make way from the entrance to the booth.”

However, it is heartening to see that despite all odds, their are people with special needs who do not fail to cast their votes. Take, for instance, 74–year–old Vasant Kashinath Amondikar, a retired official from district collector office. Amondikar, who accompanied by her son and wife, came to cast his vote at the Apte Prashala polling booth, Shivajinagar constituency. He could not find any ramp. It was worse as the booth was set up in the first floor. Neither there was any attendant to help him.

Amondikar, who walks with the help of a walker, had to climb the stairs with much difficulty. Said his son, “The booth should have been on the ground floor. Their is no ramp or attendant. If the polling booths are made accesssible, more voters will come out to vote.”

The polling officers too are not sensitive to the physicallydisabled voters and fail to understand their needs and difficulties. One of the officer deployed at a booth to assist the disabled was seen busy with the electoral list at the entrance of the Apte Prashala polling booth. When asked he said that he would assist disabled people only if approached by them.

Waman Narayan Tungar, member of the advisory committee for the disabled, said that they have been fighting for disabled–friendly elections for several years. “Provisions are made for ramps and Braille script at the polling booths. Its better in urban areas, but in rural areas, disabled people find it really tough.”

However, embossing on the electronic voting machines or ballot papers in Braille were seen in all the polling booths to help the visually–impaired. Meera Badve, director and founder Niwant Andha Mukta Vikasalay said her students were quite happy to find ballot papers in Braille.

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