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Lok Sabha elections 2019: Voter helpline stretched by funny, bizarre queries

The centre has been set up at the National Information Centre (NIC), which has been tasked with the job of resolving voters’ queries ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

lok sabha elections Updated: Mar 21, 2019 15:00 IST
Sadia Akhtar
Sadia Akhtar
Gurugram
lok sabha elections 2019,lok sabha elections,lok sabha
The centre has been set up at the National Information Centre (NIC), which has been tasked with the job of resolving voters’ queries ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. (Yogendra Kumar/HT )

Arvind Kejriwal had called me to say that my name has been deleted from the voters’ list. How can this happen? I have a voters’ ID; why was my name removed? Please add my name to the list,” a person on the phone can be heard complaining to an attendant at the election call centre at the Mini Secretariat, set up to give poll related information to voters.

“Please share your details and we will check the information. Where do you live? Okay. Street number? Okay, give me a minute,” says the call attendant. The call centre has been flooded with more than 10,000 calls in the past three months, with harried people calling them about missing names in the voters’ list.

“Your name is there on the electoral list. I have just checked,” the attendant, Vishal, says but even before he completes the sentence, he is cut-off by the caller who is not convinced by the assurance.

Attendants say that such calls do not surprise them anymore. The centre has been set up at the National Information Centre (NIC), which has been tasked with the job of resolving voters’ queries ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Buzzing with phone calls from 9am till 9pm on a daily basis, the centre — which operates out of the second floor of the Mini Secretariat— has become a centre of activity since the state election commission launched the helpline — 1950 — to address poll-related queries and complaints of voters in January.

Manned by four people, who work in two shifts from 9am to 3pm and 3pm to 9pm, the centre is tasked with the job of addressing queries that emerge from four assembly constituencies of the Gurgaon district — Sohna, Pataudi, Gurugram and Badshahpur. From January 22 to March 18, the helpline has received 11,003 calls. In addition to receiving calls related to electoral registration and polling stations, attendants on the helpline number said that they were also receiving queries that were bizarre and, sometimes, plain funny.

“People get false calls and then start panicking. One or two calls like these are received daily. We make our best efforts to resolve their doubts, but if they still refuse to believe us, we share the contact details of the block level election officer,” said Punit, 23, head of the call centre.

He said that the attendants also received calls related to mundane things such as mobile phone SIM cards and top-up offers. “Once, we got a call from someone enquiring if we were from a telecom agency. The caller kept complaining that his phone SIM card wasn’t functioning properly and we should do something about it. On another occasion, the caller kept badgering us with requests to check why his phone had not been recharged,” he said.

Another attendant shared how an angry caller had once threatened to take action after the centre refused to share the complete list of voters with him. “This caller first sought details of his name on the electoral roll. We couldn’t find any record. Later, he started seeking details of voters in a certain locality, the whole city and eventually, the whole district. It was bizarre because he kept calling the head office in Chandigarh simultaneously,” said Punit.

After weeks, the caller finally stopped calling, much to the relief of the attendants at the call centre.

“The caller would call daily and waste my time. One day, I told him that there were more than 12 lakh voters in the city and he would get details of all the names if he decided to pay for the printing cost, which comes to somewhere around ₹12 lakh. Since that day, he hasn’t called,” said Punit

Officials of the district administration said that the helpline was playing a crucial role in providing essential information to the voters. However, some people, due to poor awareness, are misusing it.

“Whenever a toll-free helpline is initiated, people start treating it like the 100 helpline of the police. From ways of making Aadhaar card to the ration card, people start treating it like an outlet of getting their queries resolved,” said Sant Lal, district election tehsildar.

An officer working with the election office, on condition of anonymity, said that some people were calling the helpline to play pranks. These bizarre incidents aside, the centre is taking various measures to ensure that voters’ queries are resolved. The four-member team has people who can converse in English, Hindi, Haryanvi and Punjabi.

“A majority of the calls being received are election-related. As the polls near, the call centre will start working 24X7. We will make ourselves available for the assistance of voters,” said Vijay Yadav, district revenue officer, who is also looking after the workings of the call centre.

In January, the AAP had alleged that the BJP got more than 30 lakh voters’ names deleted in Delhi. Since then, AAP leaders have asserted that they hired the services of call centre employees to make people aware that names had been deleted from voters’ list.

“Through our surveys, we realised that names of lakhs of voters had been deleted from the voter list in Delhi. In order to sensitise voters and ensure that they have their names on the electoral roll, we have been making calls to make them aware of the deletion. Most of the calls made through our campaign are accurate,” said Sudhir Yadav, AAP Haryana spokesperson.

First Published: Mar 21, 2019 01:56 IST