THE ZONAL officer of the polling booths in Arnala Fort, Manohar Kedare, reassures his team of 10 that they will be fine as they take the Assembly election to the island for the first time, on a boat from Vasai beach.
“The government has provided plastic cover for the machines but no raincoats for us. This should explain to you the order of priority,” says Kedare, adding, “this is my fifth time, so I understand the process. Nothing will happen to any of you, just be extra cautious about the items.”
Every election, the government makes special provisions for taking the voting process to the Arnala Fort island, around 8 km from the Arnala beach in Vasai.
“We hire boats in advance, make lists of what we need from the mainland and check and recheck every item multiple times. If we miss any item, we will have to take a boat back to the mainland and then travel 30 km to the Vasai tehsil office,” Kedare says.
For the villagers, the arrival of the officials is an event worthy of taking a day off from work as they are visiting the island after six months. “I came home early as I like to see the officials walk in with their equipment. It feels like we are part of something bigger than the island,” says Nanubai Geni (48), a fisherwoman. Another resident, Sukant Bhoir (29), who is a ferryman between the island and mainland, says, “Even the rich have to step out to vote. But for us, the election comes home.”
Before getting on the boat, Kedare is running around accumulating his equipment. “There’s a lot of paperwork involved in the Assembly elections. I want to get all of that printed before reaching the island,” he says.
The senior Vasai Virar City Municipal Corporation employee also had to wait for more than an hour to get vehicles for his team. “One deals with all these hurdles every time and learns from them,” he says.
For the Lok Sabha elections, Kedare had a different team, with some people who had come to the island before. However, this time, all members of his team are new. According to Rashi Myana (30), a primary school teacher, she never knew of the place before. “This is my first time here. Despite living in Virar, I didn’t know,” she says. Myana was most afraid of boarding the boat.
“Since there’s no jetty, one has to walk into the sea to climb into the boat. In high tide, the boats can come closer. However, one still has to wade across knee-deep water,” Bhoir explains.
He adds, “There’s a beautiful fort on the island, which is a tourist spot, but people don’t come because there’s no jetty and no alternative route.”
The area is under Vasai constituency, from where Hitendra Thakur of the Bahujan Vikas Aghadi is MLA. He is contesting again, and his pitted against Shiv Sena’s Vijay Patil, a former Congress member.
However, neither of the contestants went to Arnala Fort to campaign. “We want a bridge connecting us to the mainland, we need a hospital, we need a jetty. If someone comes to us, we will tell them but no one does,” says Lakshmi Dhanu, a resident.
Yet, the team of officials, who have gone to island for conducting the election, are hopeful of a good turnout.
“The residents are excited and have come up to us, asking after our well-being. It is nice of them despite being so cut off from basic infrastructure,” says Sunil Shelar, a Palghar resident and a government official.