In spite of the instructions of the Election Commission that no voter should have to walk more than 2 km to reach the nearest voting station, the electoral body in Himachal Pradesh has removed the polling booth from the remote Bada Bhangal village in Kangra district.
Situated deep between the mighty Dhauladhar and Pir Panjal ranges of the Himalayas, Bada Bhangal is considered to be the remotest village in the hill state.
Located at a height of 7,700 ft above the sea level, this remote village with a population of more than 500 has 291 registered voters.
A polling booth was first set up in the village during the assembly elections in 2007, after 60 years of independence. While electors in Bada Bhangal boycotted the general elections in 2009 for non-fulfillment of their demand to exclude the village from the sanctuary area, they had voted in the 2012 assembly elections.
Helicopters were used to lift polling parties to the Bada Bhangal polling booth during the previous three elections.
Before 2007, the villagers used to trek 72 km through the 4,654m-high Thamsar Pass or travel more than 300 km via Chamba to reach Bir in Baijnath (Kangra district) to exercise their franchise.
Most of the people in this village are nomads and migrate to Bir in winter. However, many of them stay in the village, braving the harsh weather conditions. Others, who leave for Bir, return to the village in summer.
Now, with the polling station shifted to Bir again, many villagers, especially the elders, who stay in the village throughout the year, will be deprived of their voting right.
It is being alleged that the polling booth was shifted to Bir on the representation of more than five people, including some panchyat functionaries, while most of the villagers were not taken into confidence.
Akshay Jasrotia, an activist based at Baijnath, said that at a time when the Election Commission was taking up a vigorous campaign to drive all voters to the polling booths, shifting the station from Bada Bhangal to Bir was a “totally mindless decision and an infringement of the voting right of the villagers”.
He alleged that a few people hailing from Bada Bhangal but permanently settled at Bir, including a few panchayat functionaries, pressed the authorities to shift the booth to Bir.
“The booth was shifted on this representation, while most of the villagers were not consulted,” Jasrotia added.
“The polling is to be held on May 7, which falls in the peak summer season. Most of the people return to Bada Bhangal around this time of the year,” he said, demanding that polling booths be set up at both Bada Bhangal and Bir.
Himachal Pradesh State Election Commission spokesman Neeraj Sharma claimed that the booth was shifted after the commission received a representation from the residents of Bada Bhangal. “We will set up a booth if the affected people demand so,” said Sharma.