As Gujarat votes on April 23 in the third phase of elections, as many as 1,68,054 persons with disabilities (PwD) in the state will be exercising their franchise, an increase of 86.89 per cent in such voters as compared to 2017 Assembly elections. Election authorities in the state have strived for inclusion by creating awareness as well as providing the required facilities and assistance to enable more people with disabilities to register to vote.
According to data sourced from the Gujarat Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), as of April 7, 2019 the number of PwD voters went up by 78,134 from 89,920 in 2017 to 1,68,054 in 2019, across the 33 districts of the state. ‘
The 2017 Assembly elections were the first time that persons with disabilities were registered under the separate category.
Persons with disabilities are given the option to register under the category so that the authorities can facilitate them to exercise their franchise with ease. The election authority in Gujarat stepped up inclusion efforts in keeping with the theme ‘accessible voting’ announced by the Election Commission of India (ECI).
Awareness campaigns, including seminars and programmes under the Systematic Voters Education and Electoral Participation, are being held across the state in every district by the respective District Election Officers. “During our roll revision we asked our field officers to enquire about persons with disabilities in every household so that proper assistance can be provided to them,” said Chief Electoral Officer S Murali Krishna.
“We have formed committees at the state and district levels, which are working to make the entire process accessible to them. We also examined the possibility of separate booths for PwD voters but for now it will be regular booths with extra facilities for them.”
The 2011 census recorded 10.9 lakh persons as living with disabilities in Gujarat, with 1.78 lakh in the age group 20-29, 1.64 lakh in the age group 30-39 and 1.35 lakh in the age group 40-49.
Volunteers and NGOs were roped in to conduct door-to-door campaigns and tell persons with disabilities about the various facilities being provided to make polling booths accessible. The initiatives include help desks at each polling booth for PwD voters, ramps at the polling booths, separate exit and entry points for PwD voters, separate toilet arrangements, pick-up and drop facilities if needed, and provision of wheelchairs.
Additional Chief Electoral Officer Sunil Patel said they had been working “rigorously at the district level and booth level and booth level” to include as many PwD voters in the voters’ list as possible. “But there are several voters who still do not want to be enrolled as persons with disabilities,” he pointed out.
“Therefore, the (actual) numbers (of persons with disabilities voting in this election) may be more than what the database shows,” he added.
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According to the ECI, electors or voters who have one among the 21 disabilities mentioned in the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 are termed as voters with disabilities. In addition, if a person has reduced mobility, motor function, physical coordination due to age and/or temporary ailments and other diseases, or if a woman is pregnant, and needs to be facilitated to get registered and to vote, they are termed electors with reduced mobility and physical functions.
Sandip Sagale, District Election Officer, Banaskantha where 6,215 more PwD voters have registered between 2017 and 2019, said their awareness creation efforts were being received well. “We have received 70 requests for wheelchairs so far and 443 people have approached us for assistance, wherein we will assign volunteers to help them,” he said.
In Vadodara, a ‘Sugam Booth, Sahaj Matdaan’ campaign has been launched, which aims at spreading awareness among regular voters to help to persons with disabilities and senior citizens. “Our aim is to make regular voters aware and get them to volunteer to take PwD voters and senior citizens to polling booths and help them cast their votes,” said Vinay Jaiswal, President of Saksham trust. “We have started a ‘One Person for One Disabled Person’ campaign, asking people to help at least one disabled person cast their vote on polling day.”