Bidyut Dey,a resident of ward number 17 is 75 per cent disabled. He can still recall the harassment and pain he had to suffer when he went to cast his vote the in the 2004 general elections.
Five years later,as the country gears up for another Lok Sabha elections,slated to be friendly for differently-abled people,Dey,like many others,is still doubtful whether he would he able to exercise his franchise.
Last time,when I had gone to cast my vote,I had to climb up two floors of a government school building with the help of my crutches. It was difficult and painful. This time they have made the booths at the ground level but it still remains to be seen how they can smoothen the process, said Dey.
In July 2002,the National Sample Survey Organisation had pegged the number of disabled persons across the country at 1.85 crore,with 28.26 lakh visually challenged,106.84 lakh physically disabled,30.62 lakh with speech impairment and 21.55 lakh with hearing impairment.
According to the latest census,there are 18,47,174 differently-abled people (rural 13,54,253 and urban 4,92,921) in the state. Of these,the number of eligible voters is yet to be ascertained.
Following the 2004 elections,based on a PIL filed by a Delhi-based NGO,the Supreme Court had directed the Election Commission to ensure that all polling stations be made accessible to persons with disability.
Consequently,it was decided that there should be wooden ramps,wheelchairs,voting machines with Braille and separate queues for differently-abled people,besides personnel to aid them and enough publicity in advance to spread the word of a barrier-free election this time.
This Lok Sabha election is historic . Though we have heard that polling booths will have facilities benefitting us,most of the disabled people are not aware of them,said Swampa Sengupta,Director,Sruti Disability Rights Centre.
The Supreme Court order states that there should be sufficient publicity to make people with disability aware of such facilities and encourage them to exercise their rights. However,what awareness campaign have you seen,she added.
That there is a lack of publicity is clear from the statement given by a Central government employee with 80 per cent disability.
My left leg has been amputed. I use a wheelchair and I know how difficult it is to go and vote. I have not received any information that anything will change this time. I cannot take the risk to go out for casting the vote, he said.
However,the state election commission is promising to abide by the court order as far as possible.
We will provide wooden ramps,shift booths to the ground floor and ask polling personnel to help the differently-abled people. About publicity,we are doing as far as possible,said Chief Electoral Officer Debashis Sen.
But we want NGOs to come forward and help us in spreading awareness, added the chief electoral officer.