Aau Pednekar, an 83-year-old resident of Shivaji Park, cannot walk without support. She also has poor vision and needs an escort to guide her. But she insisted on voting in the Assembly elections on Tuesday. She trudged to her polling booth at Dadar’s Balmohan Vidyamandir, but had to scale nine tall steps before she could get to the voting hall. The booth did not have ramps or helpers. “I managed to get here, but it was painful. I had to take breaks and sit before I could vote,” she rued.
Similar stories were shared by other physically challenged persons and senior citizens across Mumbai. “Voting would have been a better experience if there were ramps for us,” said Versova’s Jasmeer Khanna (38), a cerebral palsy patient. Khanna managed to vote only after her father and helper lifted her wheelchair up a steep staircase leading to the polling booth on the first floor of a civic school. The Supreme Court, in an order passed two months before the April Lok Sabha elections, had directed the Election Commission (EC) to provide ramps, staircase banisters and Braille markings on voting machines. A random check of poll booths revealed that while Braille sheets were attached to most voting machines, ramps and banisters were hard to find. “During the Lok Sabha polls, the EC said it had no time to implement the order. What is the excuse now?” asked Sriram Patnakar, founder-director of the BrihanMaharashtra Apang Vikas Sangathana, which rallied for universally accessible polling booths.
In Matunga, however, disabled rights activist Nilesh Singit was pleasantly surprised to find that the polling booth at Amulik Amichand School had been shifted to the ground floor. During earlier elections, Singit, who uses crutches, had to be carried to the first-floor polling booth. “At least some sensitivity has seeped in,” he said.