Wheelchair bound Poonam, a blind woman with half her body paralysed, could not speak but happily flashed her inked finger to everyone at the Karaval Nagar polling booth under North-east Delhi constituency. This was not the first time she was casting her vote but Poonam, accompanied by her father, was equally excited about exercising her franchise.
Watching 60-year-old Ratan Singh enter the Burari poll on crutches, two volunteers rushed towards him with a wheelchair, but he moved forward to the polling room on his own. Differently abled voters, who had to face difficulties while exercising their franchise in the recently concluded Delhi Assemble elections held in December 2013, were a happy lot after witnessing improved and accessible polling booths across the capital.
The Delhi Election Commission had provided a wheelchair and two volunteers at each polling station to ensure better accessability to differently-abled voters. "Unlike the Delhi Assembly elections, the arrangements in and around the polling stations were surprisingly good. I was offered a wheel chair by an assistant as soon as I arrived to cast my vote at Modern Public School in Barakhamba Road," said Ramesh Kumar.
RTI activist Dr Satendra Singh had raised the issue of inadequate facilities for disabled voters at polling stations. "I visited more than 40 polling stations to check if the promises made by the concerned officials have been fulfilled. I felt extremely happy to see the things changed this time as each polling booth had at least one wheelchair with an attendant," he said. Unperturbed by the unavailability of facilities, most disabled voters asserted that they should vote irrespective of difficulties. "Irrespective of the facilities at the polling booth, I would have to exercise my franchise, as I believe that each and every vote counts and will have an impact," 28-year-old Mohammad Javed, who was accompanied by his father, said.
A regular voter, Sonia Singh said, when wheelchairs were not available her brother and father would lift her up to help her vote at the poll booth. "I am voting for the fourth time and when wheelchairs were not available my brother or father used to lift me. I am happy there are such facilities now, but I would have come anyway." Purbi Devi, who had lost her legs in an accident, said if she was aware about NOTA option she would have used it.
"I came to vote because I believe its my responsibility. I would have exercised the NOTA option, but I would have come for sure. I never miss any election," the 42-year-old woman said. Delhi Election Commission had vowed to provide certain facilities to disabled voters including smooth transit to the polling booth.
Apart from facilities like braile ballots and ramps at the polling stations which were provided in the earlier elections as well, the DEC ensured availability of wheelchair and trained volunteers at every polling booth. A software enabling the people with special needs to seek customised arrangement for them on the polling day, was also launched by the election commission, ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.