Volume 2 Issue 19 - October 01, 2004

Dharna moves Election Commission to action

DNIS News Network - A massive demonstration took place in New Delhi on September 28, outside the gates of the Election Commission, protesting against the lack of facilities for disabled voters in the upcoming assembly and by-elections.

Delegations from various disability organisations lead by Disabled Rights Group (DRG) Convenor, Javed Abidi, sat on a dharna in front of the Election Commission. This blockade continued for almost 30-40 minutes, till the police were called in.

Just as the confrontation was brewing, the officials of the Election Commission came out and invited a delegation of three people -- Abidi, V. Rajashekhar and Asha Mehra -- to go inside for a meeting with the Deputy Election Commissioner, A.N. Jha.

Jha assured the DRG delegation that the Election Commission understood their pain and anger. He then went on to disclose that on the issue of ramps for the orthopaedically disabled, the Election Commission was issuing firm orders to the Chief Secretaries of Maharashtra, Arunachal Pradesh and all other places where by-elections are due, that wooden ramps were to be put up at all polling stations in the urban areas.

DRG responded by saying: "We welcome this initiative on the part of the Election Commission but we will not be fully satisfied unless the order is extended to the rural areas also. The concerns of the rural disabled were not addressed at the time of the general elections. Their mobility needs cannot be neglected once again in these assembly/by-elections."

Jha said he would look into the matter and convey the group's feelings and point of view to the members of the Election Commission.

On the issue of Braille signage to make the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) accessible for visually impaired voters, Jha disclosed that two or three prototypes are being made ready at the Electronics Corporation of India Ltd in Hyderabad. They are to be tested on October 1. If any one prototype is approved, the Election Commission may put it to use in the Asif Nagar constituency of Andhra Pradesh on a test-run basis.

Recording the anguish on the delay, DRG responded by appreciating the progress made on the issue of making the voting process friendly for visually impaired people. "Had this work been done faster and in consultation with disability groups, perhaps all the basic preparatory work would have been over by now and the EVMs would have been ready with the Braille signage. Nevertheless, some progress is always better than no progress," Abidi said.

To speed up the work, DRG fixed a meeting for the next day at Nirvachan Sadan between the Election Commission and visually impaired activists. (See news story "Progress on issue of Braille for visually impaired voters".)

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