The Delhi Election Commission has decided to make customised arrangements for people with special needs at polling booths across the city to encourage them to exercise their franchise in the Lok Sabha elections.
Delhi’s Chief Electoral Officer Vijay Dev said the Commission was working on a unique software for voters with special needs through which they will be able to communicate to the EC their specific requirements on the polling day.
The software will be available on Delhi Election Commission’s website within a week and differently abled voters will have to register their names, addresses and specific requirements. “The aim of the initiative is to provide all required facilities to them for making their voting experience a pleasant one,” said Dev.
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“For example, if there is a requirement for a wheelchair for a particular voter or if the person needs an attendant, we can try to provide such facilities on polling day if we have information about it in advance,” he added. The Chief Electoral Officer said the software will not only help voters with disabilities but also enable the Commission to prepare a database of voters with special needs.
“No data is available on the number of disabled voters and hence it becomes difficult to arrange for special facilities for them,” Dev said.
However, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) figures put the number of differently abled people in the city at around 2.5 lakh.
Dev said there have been certain official instructions, including for the availability of ramps and Braille ballots at polling booths during earlier elections as well. “But their needs have never been evaluated from their perspective hence either they refrain from voting or their experience is not a good one,” he said.
“After consulting certain NGOs, we have decided to develop the software and, in cooperation with the Ministry of Social Justice and Welfare, we are arranging for volunteers and at least one wheelchair at each pooling booth. “Besides this, we are also training the poll personnel about how their entry and exit to the booths should be smoothly carried out. They are also being trained about how their behavior should be while dealing with such voters,”said Dev.
Also, certain parameters have been laid down for booth level officers and poll personnel on duty. The officials will be held liable if there is any violation of instructions, Dev said. However, disability activists believe that the steps taken by the Election Commission are not enough to ensure a pleasant voting experience.
Javed Abidi, Convener of the Disabled Rights Group (DRG) and Director of NCPEDP, said, “Even if these steps are successfully implemented in Delhi, what about those in other parts of the country?”
Abidi, who moved Supreme Court in 2004 demanding that necessary steps be taken to ensure adequate facilities for disabled voters, believes that not enough has been done since the apex court directed Election Commission to instruct all state governments and Union Territories to make good quality ramps at polling stations. “All polling centres still do not have ramps and even if they do, the transit to the polling booths is not seamless, given the security reasons,” he said.
“Along with the state election commissions, the central election commission also needs to ensure that the best practices being adopted in places like Delhi and Odisha areenforced in other states as well,” added Abidi.