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Haryana government makes provisions for its visually impaired voters

DNIS News Network - In a significant move, the Haryana government is ensuring that visually impaired voters can vote in February. Will the Bihar and Jharkhand governments follow suit?

It was in October 2004 that a historic experiment was conducted in Asif Nagar (Hyderabad, India) in the by-elections – visually impaired Indian voters were able to vote for the first time in the history of suffrage in India.

Now comes news that shows that Asif Nagar was not a one-time occurrence, and that the government is seriously considering the needs of its visually impaired citizens as far as voting is concerned.

Haryana's Commissioner for Persons with Disability, M.S. Ahluwalia, has announced that electronic voting machines (EVMs) with Braille will be provided for voters in Haryana. This came after Ahluwalia’s meeting with K.S. Wilfred, Secretary, Election Commission (EC).

He also stated that according to a letter issued by the Election Commission, each district headquarter will manage a helpline for voters with visual impairments, and 10 monitoring teams will be constituted at the state level to ensure proper implementation of the disabled-friendliness of the elections.

Ahluwalia said, “The EC arrived at the decision of introducing voting in Braille after considering an affidavit filed by Dr Jaspal of the All India Society for Blind, in which he demanded EVMs in Braille.”

This assumes great significance for the forthcoming Assembly Elections scheduled in two other States besides Haryana – Bihar and Jharkhand -- in February 2005. National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) has written to the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) to ensure an accessible and barrier-free voting process for disabled people in all the States.

In its endeavour to make voting a disabled-friendly process, NCPEDP wants to ensure that necessary directions are sent well in advance to the State Election Commissioners in the States where the Assembly Elections are going to he held, directing them to provide necessary facilities for disabled voters at all polling stations.

In its letter to the CEC, Javed Abidi, Executive Director, NCPEDP has said that the process of making voting disabled-friendly should not falter. The necessary facilities for disabled voters, including ramps for the physically disabled and EVMs with Braille numeric for the visually impaired, should be made available at all the polling stations in these three States during the Assembly Elections.

Referring to Asif Nagar, he added that there has been slow but steady progress in the matter, since the General Elections held in April-May 2004. In the Assembly/By-elections held in October 2004, we moved one step further, with Braille Ballot Sheets being made available to visually impaired voters in 9,000 polling stations of two constituencies in the Mumbai and Thane region and EVM with Braille numeric getting launched and tested at the Asif Nagar Constituency in Hyderabad.

Lamenting Arunachal Pradesh's election scenario, Abidi said, “We would like to put it on record that in Arunachal Pradesh, where the Assembly Elections were held in October 2004, there were no provisions for disabled voters. This is indicative of the fact that States are not taking the issue very seriously. Even in Maharashtra , the Mumbai High Court had to finally intervene.”