Even as Kangra district’s over 10.5 lakh electorates excitedly await to get their index fingers inked at polling booths near their residences during the panchayat polls slated for January 10 and 12, the 25-odd voters of the remote Bada Bhangal village have two options — to either undertake an arduous journey to exercise their franchise or give up the idea entirely.
The reason: Kangra election body has set up the booth for this village at Bir near Baijnath, 80 kilometers away from Bada Bhangal, as in view of the election officers, the small number of villagers is not significant enough to allot a polling booth to the village.
This despite the instructions of the Election Commission of India that every single voter be reached irrespective of the expenditure, and that no electorate should have to walk more than 2 km to reach the nearest voting station.
Worse, the Himachal Pradesh Panchayati Raj Election Rules 1994 have no mention of the criteria for setting up a polling booth.
Tucked away between the Dhauladhar and Pir Panjal ranges of the Himalayas at a height of 7,700 feet, Bada Bhangal, which is considered to be the remotest village in the hill state, has a population of 500 of which 291 are registered voters.
As most of the villagers, who are semi-nomads, migrate to Bir in winter, only some 25 registered voters would be left behind during the panchayat polls.
A polling booth was first set up in this village during the 2007 assembly polls, 60 years after Independence.
Before that, the villagers were forced to trek 72 km through the 4,654m-high Thamsar Pass or travel more than 300 km via Chamba to reach Bir to exercise their franchise.
As a result, they boycotted the General Elections in 2009, while no polling booth was set up in the village during the 2010 panchayat polls.
A polling booth was later allotted during the 2012 assembly elections. Two years later, during the 2014 general elections, the Bada Bhangal polling booth was again scrapped, but restored after the matter was highlighted by the Hindustan Times.
State Election Commission secretary Ashwani Kumar Sharma said the decision on setting up a polling booth rested with the district election officer.
When contacted, Ritesh Chauhan, Kangra deputy commissioner-cum-district election officer, said, “There would be only around 20 voters at Bada Bhangal at that time and it is more important that the 10.5 lakh other electors cast their ballot in the polls across the district.”
When democracy reached out to each voter
In the 2014 general elections, the Election Commission of India set up polling booth for a single voter in the middle of Gir forest in Gujarat. In the 2013 Chhatisgarh assembly polls, a booth was set up for two voters in the remote Seradand village in Koriya district.