This topic provides information related to steps taken for Accessible Elections in India.
One of the laudable features that the Founding Fathers of the nation embedded in our Constitution is Part XV Elections; that provides for an Independent Election Commission, Universal adult suffrage, maintenance of electoral rolls and all the other fundamentals for conduct of free, fair and inclusive elections. These features have helped the polity evolve into a vibrant and a rich democratic culture marked by faith of Indian People in the electoral exercise, its non partisan nature, and with the basic tenet of 'No Voter should be left behind.' - a perfect blend for inclusion and the consequent everlasting determination and endeavor for maximizing of the base of democracy in India.
Guiding Principles for Accessibility
Article 324 of the Constitution provides for the Election Commission, its powers and functions for maintenance of the Electoral Roll and conduct of elections in a free and fair manner. Article 325 provides that no person shall be ineligible for inclusion in the electoral roll on the grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or anyone of these. Article 326 provides for the Universal Adult Suffrage to be the basis of elections. The concerned provisions of the Constitution and the law that flows there from cast an obligation on the Election Commission of India (ECI) for conduct of free, fair and inclusive elections based on adult suffrage.
A larger recognition to the rights of ‘Persons with Disability’ came from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention of Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) that stress upon respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy and independence of voter, freedom to make one’s own choice, full and effective participation and inclusion in society, respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity, accessibility etc.
'The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 defines a “person with disability” as a person with long term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairment which, in interaction with barriers, hinders his full and effective participation in society equally with others.' This would in effect mean inherent barriers to inclusion of such persons in the electoral process.
Elections Provide Choices
Elections provide for exercise of choices by the voters to elect their representatives based on adult suffrage and it calls upon the Election Machinery to provide for that
- eligible citizens are registered as voters in the electoral roll and
- voters are empowered to make choices for their representatives by casting the vote. Persons with Disabilities (PwD) constitute a special section of society that requires an affirmative action wherein the electoral machinery has to reaches out to them for registration as voters and provide suitable facilities at the polling stations to enable them exercise their franchise.
The barriers in access to electoral participation that may be perceived by the PwDs relate to difficulties in voter registration, inaccessible registration materials or facilities, inadequate or inaccessible voter education and related materials, difficulties in physical access to polling stations, inability to vote independently and privately, absence of or inappropriate assistance from poll workers etc. The list is only illustrative but in effect it means discouraging PwDs from exercise of their right to franchise. Barriers do dissuade persons with disabilities from voting.
In a democracy in true spirit of universal adult suffrage, every vote matters, every vote counts. Given this fundamental premise, equal access is vital to participation for PwDs. The Barriers can be obliterated if they are addressed appropriately and effectively under a well designed Policy Framework.
ECI’s Broad Policy Framework
ECI’s broad policy framework on Accessible Elections emanates from the guiding principles and the mandate as discussed above. Further, its Strategic Plan for 2016-25 spells out long term the strategic interventions and the current focus of in a continued endeavor for enhancement of inclusion of PwDs as an integral part of its election management including voter education.
Directions and Guidelines of the Commission Directions of the Commission on the subject focus on the following broad areas in Election Management and Planning:
- Identification of PwDs including polling station wise lists;
- Facilitation in filling up voter registration forms;
- Assured Minimum Facilities at Polling Stations, preference in obtaining facilities at polling stations, Matdata Sahayata Kendras and other election offices in the field;
- Involvement of NGOs, CSOs/DPOs,RWAs;
- System Sensitization and Training;
- Use of technology to provide help to PWDs;
- Cooperation of Political Parties
- Building a comprehensive Statistical Data Base.
- Utilising the services of volunteers;
- Training and Sensitization of Officials handing the work relating to PwDs
Voter education and Outreach for PwDs is an integral part of the SVEEP Plans. Broad areas of coverage are as below:
- An officer well versed with provisions of facilities for PwDs, shall be designated for each of the Assembly Constituencies.
- Wide publicity through various modes shall be ensured. Basic publicity material shall be prepared with simple language, sign language, Braille.
- Special/Mobile camps should be organized to educate and motivate PwDs
- Efforts should be made to prepare volunteers from NCC, NSS, NYK etc to motivate and create awareness among PwDs.
- Publicity regarding services offered by CSC, MSKs should be enhanced.
- Efforts shall be made to have renowned PwDs as District Ambassadors and District, State icons.
Efforts taken for Accessible Elections
ECI has implemented several measures to ensure basic facilities at the polling stations making them conducive for PwDs to cast their vote. Some of them are as below
- Braille signage on the Ballot Unit of EVM
- Construction of ramps – temporary installed where permanent ramps had not been provided.
- Entering polling stations without waiting in the queue.
- Facility granted to take wheel chairs inside polling stations.
- Polling personnel briefed about the provisions of Rule 49 N of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, for permitting a companion to accompany a blind/infirm elector.
- Electors with speech & hearing impairment were given special care as in the case of other disabled persons.
- Poll personnel were trained & sensitized regarding special need of PwDs.
- Special Directions of the Commission were given for providing adequate facilities to the PwDs.
Provided Basic Minimum Facilities (BMF) at the Polling Station, such as
- location of polling stations preferably at the ground floor in good quality buildings with separate entrance and exit
- drinking water
- provision of first aid
- adequate space with ventilation, sufficient lighting & amenities like chairs, benches & covered shelter
Strategic Framework on Accessible Elections
ECI has announced a series of measures for facilitation of PwDs, which are as follows.
- Printing of EPIC (Electors Photo Identity Card) with Braille for Persons with Visual Impairment or Blind,
- Accessible Communication Awareness Materials
- A Mobile Application to motivate and educate
- Appointment of Disability Coordinators at AC, District and State Level
- Cascaded training on Accessibility to Poll officials
- Auxiliary Polling Stations
- Accessible Photo Voter Slips
- Sign Language window in all the audio visual training and advertisement content material for the convenience of deaf persons
- Free Transport Facility for PwDs and their Assistants
- A new Accessible Division in India International Institute of Democracy and Electoral Management (IIIDEM) , New Delhi
Source : Election Commission of India