RTI EXPOSE: Polls near, but no data of voters with disabilities
Times of India
Manash Pratim Gohain, TNNJan 27, 2014, 05.32AM IST
NEW DELHI: Even as India celebrates "National Voters' Day" last Saturday, the world's largest democracy is ill-prepared to safeguard electoral rights of voters with disabilities.
The general elections are just a couple of months away, and the Election Commission (EC) has no record of voters with disabilities. Despite orders from the offices of the Prime Minister of India, National Informatics Centre and chief commissioner for People with Disabilities (PwDs), the website of the EC is still not accessible to electors with visual disabilities.
While the Supreme Court too directed the EC to create adequate awareness for electors with disabilities through mass media campaigns, information availed via Right to Information revealed that no separate awareness campaign has been created for disabled voters.
RTIs also revealed that EC has no record on electoral speeches and debates of candidates made available to hearing-impaired voters through sign language interpreters and subtitling and the commission has sent no communication to the CEO of states and union territories to involve maximum electors with disabilities.
The National Voters' Day, being celebrated on January 25 since 2011, is dedicated to the constitutional rights of adult suffrage granted to every India citizen, irrespective of religion, race, caste, community, language, region or socio-economic considerations.
In the Delhi assembly elections in December, RTI activist and a doctor with disability at University College of Medical Science, Delhi University, Dr Satendra Singh campaigned before and after the polling day on the hurdles faced by electors with disability.
"I complained to state commissioner for PwD when many disabled voters could not vote in Delhi elections due to inaccessible polling booths. In response, the commissioner only submitted an old letter where he wrote to the chief electoral officer about guidelines to follow. The message is clear: we are not vote banks and those who are supposed to be safeguarding our rights are sitting idle, doing nothing," said Singh.
When asked via RTI: "Are the issues of persons with disabilities covered in Systemic Voters' Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP)?", the EC replied in negative. To another question asking for "details of persons with disabilities and organizations for disability consulted to ensure maximum participation of electors with disability?", the reply said "no information available."