PUNE : The Pune District Election Office is planning to set up a polling station that will exclusively be managed by persons with disabilities. With the election machinery geared up to give top priority to differently-abled people during the polling process, Naval Kishore Ram, the Pune District Collector, told The Indian Express that they were keen to set up at least one polling station that will have differently abled people as the polling staff.
“The aim is to make Lok Sabha elections more accessible to persons with disabilities,” said Ram. The move comes soon after it was announced that at least one polling booth in each of the state’s 288 Assembly constituencies would be manned by a woman… These special initiatives are being launched as part of the Systematic Voters’ Education and Voters Participation to encourage differently-abled people and women voters to come out and vote in large numbers,” said the district collector.
According to the final electoral roll, there are at least 73,63,812 registered voters, including 35,12,228 women and 38,51,445 men, in Pune district this time, as compared to 63,48,704 during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
While there are approximately 70,000 persons with disabilities in the voters list, the district collector admitted that the figure could be bigger. “The number cannot be determined as details of the disability during voters’ registration in the past were not taken. We tried to identify voters who were Persons with Disabilities through home visits,” added the district collector.
According to Section 11 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, the Election Commission of India and the State Election Commission have to ensure that all polling stations are accessible to persons with disabilities and all issues related to the electoral process are easily understandable. “We have roped in volunteers to ensure that persons with disabilities are given priority at polling stations…,” said M S Ghule, district nodal officer for Persons with Disabilities.
Apart from polling personnel being trained and sensitised regarding special needs of persons affected by various disabilities, the government’s plan to depute persons with disabilities to man polling stations is also seen as a symbolic gesture. “We hope that it will encourage more persons with disabilities to come out and vote,” said the district collector. “Attempts are being made to set up the polling station at ground level. Wheelchairs will be provided at identified polling stations,” added Ghule. Ballot papers with braille script will also be provided as another measure to encourage and empower visually challenged persons.