Sample this: An elector with disability had to be physically lifted as there was no ramp at a Johrigaon polling booth in the state capital. A man with a fractured foot had a tough time arriving at a poll centre in Satto Wali Ghati near Patelnagar. A senior citizen had to be carried from the booth gate to the voting room on a chair because there was no barrier-free access way for his wheelchair to move in at a Bharuwala booth.
According to the Election Commission of Uttarakhand, facilities like ramps and Braille-enabled ballot papers/ EVMs for visually impaired persons were ensured for electors with special needs. However, despite best efforts of the poll panel, a large number of differently-abled and elderly electors faced a hard time in casting their votes in Uttarakhand on Wednesday.
Out of the 10,094 polling booths across the state, a total of 7,288 had the facility of ramps. But, at many places, these ramps were too steep or narrow to be used. Some booths HT visited did not have a barrier-free access from the gate of polling booth till the voting room.
“If not permanent, there should be at least a temporary ramp in place for the elderly and differently-abled voters to use,” said Kamala Pokhariyal, who had come to cast her vote along with her son and senior citizen husband at a Vasant Vihar polling booth on Wednesday.
A youngster with mobility trouble, who had come to cast his ballot at the same booth, took around 20 minutes to cover the short distance between a stair and the voting room. “This is unacceptable. The Supreme Court had mandated that all polling booths should have the facility of permanent or temporary ramps for seamless access for persons like me but there is no such facility available here,” he told the HT.
It is worth recalling that there are around 1.85 lakh differently-abled people in Uttarakhand but there is no record available regarding the number of such electors.
Rizwan Ali, legal advisor and outreach coordinator of Latika Roy Foundation, an organization that works for disability rights, said, “Many persons with different types of disabilities had to face ‘unequal’ opportunities while casting their votes.”