Volume 3 Issue 5 - March 01, 2005

“The word ‘impossible’ is not in my dictionary”

Declaring the recently held election process in the State as illegal, Haryanas Commissioner for Persons with disabilities, Mohan Singh Ahluwalia, resigned from his post, on February 15, as a mark of protest. Anjali Sen Gupta catches up with the 27-year-old ex-Commissioner to get his side of the story.

When were you appointed to the post of Commissioner for Persons with Disability in Haryana?

I was appointed about two years ago, in 2002.

What steps did you take to make buildings, services, etc, in the state disabled-friendly?

After my appointment, I took stock of the existing facilities and services for persons with disability in the State. I contacted the public and the private sector and asked them to furnish details of employment provided to disabled people. I also called a meeting of Deputy Commissioners of Faridabad and Haryana, and leading industrialists of the area for a one-to-one meet. There were nearly 130 and 150 participants, respectively, at these meets. It was a dismal situation; reservation policy was not being followed. The next step was to contact the Chief Minister (at that time, O.P. Chauthala was in office), and the State Chief Secretary. That resulted in the State government lifting the ban on direct recruitments and giving posts to disabled people.

In the private sector, some companies did provide employment to disabled people, though the majority did not. One leading automobile company, for example, actually said that since it was a commercial/profit-making organisation, it cannot employ disabled people because it will not find the required expertise! This was appalling.

Allotment of petrol pumps too is one area which can benefit persons with disability. I met senior officials of various oil companies. The General Manager, Indian Oil Corporation, committed that he would ensure the fulfilment of the quota within six months. (This was one month before I resigned.) Bharat Petroleum Corporation has increased the quota from 3 per cent to 5 per cent on its own.

I have also implemented 3 per cent reservation in the Haryana Civil Service and all services; nearly 1,500 disabled people have already been employed.

I have organised meetings between Haryanas Deputy Commissioners and police officers, to sensitise the latter to the needs of disabled people. New buildings will now have ramps, and I had ramps built in some old buildings too. Camps were also organised for providing aids and appliances, loan schemes, etc, for disabled people.

Before the elections, did the Election Commission (EC) confer with you regarding provision of facilities for disabled voters?

There was no intimation from their side. The EC did not make any significant efforts. It is the Fundamental Right of every citizen to vote, and it is the duty of the EC to ensure that not only can all manner of people cast their votes, but to also ensure the secrecy of that ballot.

In fact, in December and January, I had asked the EC to cancel the Haryana elections till proper facilities had been made for disabled voters.

The EC has failed in its mandate if persons with disability cannot vote, and also if people with certain kinds of disability, for example, blind voters, cannot vote in a secure environment.

What were the facilities actually provided for disabled citizens?

There was nothing. A few ramps or Braille electronic voting machines (EVMs) here and there make no difference. That is only a drop in the ocean.

Why did you have to take the extreme step of resigning from your post? Dont you think you can do more good for disabled voters if you are in office than out of it?

I did not want to be part of a system that does not work. This is my kranti, my revolt. I felt that such an extreme step was necessary. It would at least draw attention to the problem. It would at least rankle in the Chief Election Commissioners (CEC) mind and maybe effect some change down the road. It is true that there is immense power and prestige associated with my office. But what is the use of staying there if my objectives are not being met?

I first wrote to the EC on December 7, 2004, enquiring about the kinds of processes regarding, and facilities for, disabled voters. I did not get any reply. Then, on December 22, a PIL was filed in the court, asking how secrecy of the ballot would be ensured for visually impaired voters, especially rural voters who were not familiar with Braille. In response to my summons of December 23, three EC officials presented themselves and asked for time till January 5 to file their answer. On that day, they gave a 33-page affidavit, signed by K.F. Wilfard, stating that elections will be conducted in Braille. They also gave the references of Maharashtras High Court and the Supreme Court orders during the recent elections in that State.

In response to my ruling on January 6, 2005 (that a Commissioner-level official should come to court), Wilfard presented himself on January 13 and, in another affidavit, said that such arrangements were not possible.

My suggestion was that the EVMs should have a kind of double press system: the first press results in audio about what symbol it is, the second press casts the vote. I had spoken to BEL in Bangalore about the feasibility of such a machine. The company said it could implement such audio responses without any problems; such systems were in use in some mobile phones anyway.

I had also wanted arrangements for ramps, drinking water, wheelchairs, etc. The EC kept saying we will do it, but nothing concrete happened. Another suggestion I had made was that committees should be formed with the support of NGOs and the media to monitor the implementation of disabled friendly voting measures and to carry the system forward. Again, nothing happened.

So on February 6 or 7, I asked the CEC to come as his officers were making false promises. He did not come, citing lack of time, and I pronounced him guilty in the eyes of the law. And resigned with immediate effect.

I have received hundreds of letters of support for my actions.

Is a meeting with the President on the cards?

Definitely. I have just returned from Mumbai. My plan is to meet the President of India, the Chief Justice of Haryana High Court and the Chief Justice of India (CJI).

What benefits do you think will accrue from those meetings?

I will call upon their sense of duty. I would also request for reservations for disabled people in the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabhas. To the CJI, I will say that lower courts are bound to honour the Supreme Courts judgements. Otherwise, it is, straight and simple, contempt of court. If the lower courts are not even implementing their higher court's orders, why do we need the burden of such a massive infrastructure?

What is the ideal voting situation possible so that the disabled citizens of India are able to cast their vote and have a voice in the democratic processes of the government?

We should have a voice-based system so that blind and visually impaired voters can cast their vote in absolute secrecy. If not that, then there be one room allocated for them at every polling station.

Every election there are fights and brawls. So there should be adequate security arrangements to help persons with disabilities escape to safety in case there is any trouble.

Of course, there should be no compromise on ramps and extra wheelchairs/tricycles. Basic amenities such as drinking water and the proper toilets should also be provided. There should also be doctors and attendants on call.

Complaints books are a must too. Citizens should be able to record their dissatisfaction or suggestions, so that action can be taken by the proper authorities.

Is this at all possible in India?

Why not? Make me the Election Commissioner and see for yourself. The word impossible should not be in any Disability Commissioners dictionary. It is certainly not in mine!

I fervently hope that the situation changes. It will take time; nothing is instant. But maybe some more awareness has been generated now.

What are your plans now?

My immediate goal is to find another job. I would like to work in areas that deal with disability, women- and children-related work.

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