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Election offices lack complete data on disabled voters

Vishnu Sukumaran New Delhi: march 14, 2014 DHNS 3:00 IST
A 2007 Supreme Court judgment ruled that special facilities need to be put in place to make polling booths more accessible for persons with disabilities.

However, an RTI reply has revealed that disabled persons in the capital are likely to face trouble while casting vote in the Lok Sabha elections to be held on April 10.

All the election offices also admitted that they do not even have any data on the number of persons with physical, visual, hearing/speech, and psychological disabilities.

“No such type of record is maintained,” replied Prem Chand, Assistant Electoral Registration Officer (Timarpur). Vikas Goyal, Returning Officer Assembly Constituencies (AC)-20 (Chandni Chowk), said: “No such information is available in this office.”

Some of the polling stations further said they do not have permanent ramps for wheelchair users, accessible toilets for wheelchair users, and designated or reserved parking for disabled persons.

They, however, claimed that personnel at the polling stations ensure that physically challenged electors are given priority for entering the polling station without having to wait in the queue for other electors, and all necessary assistance are provided to them.
“Full facility is provided to such electors to take their wheelchairs inside the polling station. In the polling stations, where permanent ramps have not been provided, temporary ones are provided,” a reply added.

Bansh Raj, Returning Officer AC-25 (Moti Nagar), further highlighted that polling personnel are also specifically briefed before elections.

“During the training sessions, polling staff were described on access issues of persons with disabilities. Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) activities are being held from time to time for awareness of voters, including disabled persons,” he said.

However RTI activist Satendra Singh, who is himself disabled, insisted that the claims need to be verified since a majority of the venues are schools and colleges which, as per his knowledge, rarely have ramps for wheelchair users.

“Few replied honestly. All 170 ramps in Wazirpur and 171 ramps in Karol Bagh were temporary,” he said.

“Since the polling stations will be used in the next month’s elections, it becomes of paramount importance to highlight the violations of 2007 Supreme Court judgement and inadequacies of CEO Delhi in protecting electoral rights of persons with disabilities,” Singh added. Singh is a doctor at the University College of Medical Sciences (UCMS) and Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital.

The 2007 judgment

In the 2007 judgment, the Supreme Court had directed the Election Commission to give appropriate directions to officers manning the polling stations regarding the special facilities for the physically disabled electorate.

It also said advance and sufficient publicity should be given in print and electronic media about the availability of the facilities for the electors with disability to exercise their franchise.

“Further, its observers should also satisfy that such facilities are given. The absence of such facilities should be notified to the respective state government for remedial and future action,” the apex court had said in the order.

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