GUWAHATI, April 23 - Tall claims of making polling stations accessible to voters with disabilities vanished into thin air when wheelchair-bound disability rights activist Arman Ali and a number of senior citizens found their polling booth to be on the first floor of Dakshin Sarania Prathamik Bidyalay, a building with steep stairs and no lift.
The matter created a big uproar among the administration and the voters assembled at the four polling booths in the school building as administrative apathy caused inconvenience to Arman Ali, Supriya Seal, Sarifunnesa, Dwipen Nath and several other voters who had to wait for several hours in the sun to cast their vote at the South Sarania primary school.
Polling stations 156 and 157 were on the first floor of the school building.
�For past 20 years, I have been voting here. This is the first time it has been shifted to the first floor. �Accessible election� was the buzzword this year with special arrangements for persons with disabilities, elderly and pregnant women. However, it all appears to be a hogwash now,� said Arman Ali.
Ali, who is the executive director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), New Delhi, had come to his hometown Guwahati to cast his vote. After being unable to access his polling station, he contacted the district administration.
However, ADC Ratul Pathak and Assistant Commissioner Shrabana Sonowal were equally clueless when they arrived at the site.
�It is the responsibility of the booth level officer (BLO) to give a complete list of the persons with disabilities (PwDs). Anyway, a building which does not have the facility of lift cannot have a polling station upstairs. We will give a report to ensure that such things do not happen in future. However, the real challenge is to ensure how the persons assembled here would exercise their right,� Pathak said.
Not finding a solution, Ali went back home and came again in the second half, only to be carried upstairs by four persons. �It is beyond my dignity to be carried like that. Exercising my democratic right was a painful experience for me this time,� he added.
On the other hand, 67-year-old Serifunnesa who had slipped disc could not go upstairs. �I cannot climb stairs, even with the help of others. I don�t want to be bedridden again. However, it�s disappointing that I cannot vote despite coming to the polling booth,� she said.
The Election Commission had made some special arrangements this year with the motto �no voter to be left behind�. It included arrangement of wheelchair, absence of queues for the disabled and elderly, adequate signage, accessible ramp, etc. However, the reality was there for all to see at Dakshin Sarania Prathamik Bidyalay.