Showing posts with label elections. Show all posts
Showing posts with label elections. Show all posts

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Delhi: Most polling booths not disabled-friendly

New Delhi, 12 March 2014

People with disabilities might face serious difficulties while casting their vote in the upcoming general elections as a number of polling booths across the Capital neither have accessible washrooms nor reserved parking, an RTI application has revealed.

 A 2007 Supreme Court judgment ruled that special facilities need to be put in place to make polling booths more accessible for persons with disabilities.

 Not to speak of sign language interpreter, some of the polling booth organisers even replied that they could not entertain people with mental or psychosocial disability as there is no such provision in law, said RTI activist Satendra Singh, a doctor at the University College of Medical Sciences (UCMS) and Guru Tegh Bahadur (GTB) Hospital, Delhi.

 Also, there is no record of the number of disabled voters in India or Delhi and no information on complaints and action taken on violations of the Supreme Court's order to provide facilities in polling booths for disabled voters.

 While replying to the RTI query of Dr Singh, two assembly constituencies (ACs) 2 and 16 said there were no arrangements for washrooms at all for disabled voters. Ten ACs replied there were arrangements of washrooms but these too were found to be inaccessible for such voters when cross checked by Dr Singh, who himself is a person with disability.

 "None of the washrooms are accessible for wheel chair users. Even hospitals lack accessible toilets," said Dr Singh.

 He said since the majority of the venues (polling booths) are schools and colleges, they rarely have ramps, forget about toilets with changes. Only two ACs had accessible washrooms.

 "The RTI info gathered from 70 assembly constituencies (ACs). Since the same will be used for the seven parliamentary constituencies (PCs) in next month’s general elections, it becomes of paramount importance to highlight the violations of 2007 Supreme Court judgment and inadequacies of CEO Delhi in protecting electoral rights of persons with disabilities," said Dr Singh.

 More than five ACs have no reserved parking for disabled electors despite having enough space, while four ACs said there were no provision for extra queues for such voters.

 When asked whether people with mental or psychosocial disability are allowed to vote, six ACs replied in the negative. Besides, two of the ACs, gave identical answers ~ "Since person with mental disability cannot be an elector, the question of voting does not arise.”

 Dr Singh, however, said, in the eyes of the law, every person (including mentally ill, mentally challenged, medically ill, hospitalised, incarcerated) over the age of 18 is fully competent unless it is declared otherwise by a court of law.

 "If a person's name is in the voter list s/he can vote irrespective of whether s/he suffers from a mental illness or not. Only if a court of law declares a person incompetent then the exclusion applies," said Dr Singh.
 Chandni Chowk, which is a VIP PC, replied that all facilities have been provided.

 Dr Singh termed the situation as alarming for the Election Commission of India (EC) and Delhi State Election Commission (DSEC), as the elections for the 16th Lok Sabha are just four weeks away.

Source: The Statesman Mr. Chandan Prakash Singh (

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Making The Election Process Accessible to all - an out of box rethinking is necessary

Dear Friends,

Here is my article on making the election process in India accessible to all that I wrote today:

India has recently voted in an unprecedented election wherein Indian National Congress emerged as the strongest and the single largest party though with not a clear majority. The overall voting percentage that is being put forward is 50%. I am amazed that despite India being the IT giant, with resources in hand why do we still have to follow the means of the bye gone era where voters lined up for several hours to cast their vote!! I learnt that within my close circle so many couldn't vote. Few travelling, few had official trips & one couple was so old that they couldn't venture out of the house at all. I also learnt from my interaction that all those on poll duty are not able to vote – this includes sizable chunk of teachers and government employees and security forces put on election duty. Their right to vote is denied.

Access at Booths for voters with Disability
On the top of it, our friends in the Disability Sector too, without thinking out of box, campaigned & pressurized and advocated the Election Commission of India to make all the voter booths accessible to voters with disabilities based on a Supreme Court Verdict. That included providing EVMs with braille and ramps to access booths.

The feedback is mixed. At many places especially in rural India, no access was provided in terms of Ramps or braille enabled EVMs while at some places where it was provided, the blind voters did not know the braille!!!!

I am not negating the work, lobbying & successes that we as a sector achieved during this. But to bring home the larger question- Are we giving sufficient choices to our electorate - disabled or not?

Is that the only solution?
Will it suffice and make it accessible to all if we just focused on booths and EVMs in the name of equal rights for the voters with reduced mobility (I include elderly, disabled & those with fractured leg or back, sick and those not able to move out due to any pre-occupation or condition in the definition of reduced mobility) ?

The fact remains that 50% of India couldn't vote. I would say “could not” and not “did not” because the election system is still not friendly to people. I can not vote with comfort still, leave aside those experiencing disability, sickness, busy work schedules or simply have other personal priorities.

Some Solutions
I was just looking at how a multinational bank services its customers. There will always be few who prefer to visit bank and do the transactions – may be due to any reason like illiteracy, bank is closer, not very IT friendly etc. While there are others who use ATMs, Internet Banking for all their transactions, few pay their installments by EMIs and give instructions for payment of utility bills few who give bearers cheques!

To me, this throws ample of examples how voting system could have more choices to facilitate the voting system for the diversity of citizenry. While voting at accessible Booths should continue, more options like email, SMS, (on the lines of phone banking and internet banking), postal ballots should be given to citizens to choose from so that no one is denied his right to vote as a citizen.

For those few who are not able to step out of the houses due to old age or severe disabilities or sickness and yet not friendly with the modern means could be offered choices like the vehicle mounted EVMs (taking clue from mobile ATM Machines) and the same could even go to houses (on the lines of door to door Polio campaign). The voting process can be a week long for those opting email & SMSs and one day for those who physically vote on election booths. It is all the more possible when we have the citizen’s data base on Election Commission’s website, Photo ID cards have been issued and any body can check his data on the internet. Only thing we need to do is relate one email per person for those who are internet savvy. These are just few ideas thrown and I am sure many new could be though out.

Way Ahead
Also, firstly each Indian Citizen entitled to vote should be counted and identified - placing faces to the numbers - with proper identity proofs (biometrics, face recognition, eye recognition software could be used for data base. This would necessarily include identifying voters with disabilities to bring them in to the mainstream. Access to all including those experiencing disability should be an inbuilt feature in all such options.

If we have to become a strong democracy, India has to make enabling provisions that every one irrespective of the situations they are in - busy, out for work, out for wedding, sick at home, caring loved ones in the hospitals, posted at borders as a combatant in forces, experiencing reduced mobility or a disabling condition should be able to vote with equal comforts and with ample choices. I am hopeful that if implemented such ideas could generate 90% turn-out during poll process, for we are a vibrant democracy with maximum young people in the world!

Subhash Chandra Vashishth
Advocate-Disability Rights

Friday, April 10, 2009

Election Commission clarifies - Grant can't be stopped in the name of Model Code of Conduct

Dear Friends,

This is in response to my earlier post on "Should Rehabilitation Services come to stand still when Model Code of Conduct is in force ?"

I have been informed by Sh. JL Kaul, Secretary General AICB that our communication and the resonance that your efforts created did work very well!

Election Commission of India has directed the Government of India, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to release grant to NGOs before 31st March and work has already been started.

Mr. Kaul has expressed thanks to all organisations who supported the petition/appeal and also wrote to the Commission directly.

Who says, the reason and strong advoacy doesn't work in India?

Congratulations to the sector and thanks to the Election Commission for their quick and timely resonse.

Warm regards,

Subhash Chandra Vashishth
Mobile: +91 (11) 9811125521

Should Rehabilitation Services come to stand still when Model Code of Conduct is in force ?

Dear Friends,

This is election time and the Election Commission of India has enforced the Model Code of Conduct. We have seen in the immediate past that in the name of Model Code of Conduct, a few Govt. Departments literally refuse to undertake even the routine activities that would not otherwise come under the purview of the the Model Code of Conduct more so when any of such activities are not related to promoting or giving benefit to any political party. We had seen similar stance taken by a senior Govt. Official in Tamil Nadu in refusing to restore the extra time facility in the government exams to Visually Impaired students.

We are faced with another typical problem that many of your organisations might be facing. This is regarding Grant in aid being received by many Organisation in Disability Sector for their projects from the Union Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment under the Ministry's regular scheme titled "Deendayal Disabled Rehabilitation Scheme for the Persons with Disabilities"

This scheme is not a special or discretionary grant and a large number of education & rehabilitation services are run with these grants by NGOs in absence of any Govt. owned set up to run similar programmes. Thus this becomes a regular service to the community which can't and should not get affected due to Model Code of Conduct.

By any prudence, the educational, vocational and rehabilitation services to the persons with disabilities can't come to stand still because there is a model code of conduct in force! Thus this is the right time that the issue is taken up with the appropriate authority i.e. the Chief Election Commission of India and in the States if such issues are being faced by other NGOs also in the other parts of the Country.

AICB, has initiated such an exercise and I would appeal all those who are affected by similar dilemma, to take recourse to similar exercise to restore this right to the persons with disabilities that they work with. Appended below is the appeal letter written to the Chief Election Commissioner by All India Confederation of the Blind which can be taken as reference point by the affected organisations.

Subhash Chandra Vashishth

Appeal Letter

Ref:-AICB/G-1/2009 16th March, 2009

The Hon’ble Chief Election Commissioner,
Government of India ,
Nirvachan Sadan, Ashoka Road ,
New Delhi-110001.

Sub:- Non-release of Government-grant-in-aid to disability NGO’s—Code of Conduct Regulation—relief solicited.


1) We wish to bring to your kind notice that disability NGO’s like ours are faced with a genuine and serious problem of non- receipt of funds which has arisen, albeit in advertently , due to the moral Code of Conduct currently in force.

2) The specific problem is explained below and we write to request you to take into consideration our special situation and grant us necessary relief.
3) Disability NGO’s receive grant-in-aid for their projects from the Union Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment under that Ministry’s regular Scheme titled “Deendayal Disabled Rehabilitation Scheme for the Persons with Disability”. These are not special or discretionary grants, but are offered on a regular basis and cover such crucial items as payment of staff salaries, meeting the cost of board and lodging for disabled children/adults, Braille books, equipments etc. This is an on-going Scheme.

4) Unfortunately, the Ministry releases grants under the Scheme only towards the end of February/March for covering annual expenses, as per specified sealings. We are, now, given to understand that the Ministry cannot even process grant-in-aid Cases, let alone sanction/release grants under the said Scheme even for on-going projects, at this juncture, since the moral Code of Conduct has come into force, subsequent to the announcement of Lok Sabha Elections. This seriously hurts the functioning of NGO’s like ours, since it makes extremely difficult for us to continue our welfare activities for want of funds. Hence, we request you to come to our rescue.

5) We do realize that the Code of Conduct, too, thus prohibit release of funds to preempt the possibility of giving rise to malpractices. At the same time, the interests of disabled children/adults we serve in accordance with the mandate of a welfare State cannot also be compromised/sacrificed.

6) In view of the foregoing, it is our humble submission that the concerned Ministry may be allowed to process related Cases and release grant-in-aid this month itself(before the close of the financial year) on the basis of the following formula:

a) No new projects may be assisted while the Code is on;
b) However, grant-in-aid may be allowed to be released for on-going activities, which have been assisted by the Ministry for preceding three years;
c) The grant to be released may be the same as released during the preceding year i.e. 2007-2008;
d) Any under-payment/over payment may be adjusted in the coming year.

We need hardly add that the Election Commission of India would earn the gratitude of thousands of disabled children/adults by acceding to our above request which would save them from untold hardships, which might otherwise result from possible break-down of services.

Thanking you and hoping to a favorable response.

Yours truly,