Volume 2 Issue 19 - October 01, 2004

Mumbai election officials ignore disabled voters

DNIS News Network - DRG has filed a petition asking for disabled-friendly facilities for the by-elections scheduled in October.

The Disabled Rights Group (Mumbai) filed a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) against the State Election Commission in Mumbai High Court on September 22. The petition seeks the provision of wooden ramps at the entrance of each polling booth for locomotor impaired voters and Braille indicators on the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) for visually impaired voters, before the polling day, October 13.

When the issue of facilities for disabled voters was taken up before the General Elections back in April-May, the Supreme Court had intervened and given directions to the States to provide ramps at all urban polling stations. At that time, the Election Commission in its Reply Affidavit had categorically stated that it would put the systems in place to include facilities for visually impaired voters, before the next elections.

Now that the Assembly Elections are around the corner in Maharashtra and Arunachal Pradesh, the Election Commission of India has once again been found to be napping. It is not at all prepared to conduct the elections in a disabled-friendly manner. After having exhausted all possible avenues of talking and persuasion, the disability sector has once again decided to take the matter in its own hands.

The PIL was listed for hearing on September 24. The arguments were held in the Court of the Chief Justice and his companion Judge, Justice Chandrachud. The judges expressed their anguish and even questioned the lawyers representing the Election Commission as to why the Assembly Elections should not be stayed. The Judges emphasised that the elections should be held in a free and fair manner for all concerned, which includes the disabled citizens of the country. At a conservative estimate, there are at least 10 lakh voters with disabilities in the State of Maharashtra alone.

Election officials are still sceptical about the inclusion of these facilities. They point to practical and logistical difficulties. "First, the issue has cropped up too late," says one official. "There is no time left for us to erect wooden ramps."

After having tried all methods of persuasion, Disabled Rights Group (DRG) has finally decided to launch a protest against the indifferent and callous attitude of the Commission towards disabled voters.

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