DNIS News Network -Mumbai High Court, last week, asked the Chief Election officer (C.E.O.) for Maharashtra to consider providing Braille Electronic Voting Machines (E.V.M.s) throughout the state during all the elections henceforth. The court also wants the C.E.O. to take the initiative in ensuring that the ramps are put up at all the polling booths so as to enable disabled people using wheelchairs to exercise their voting rights.
Hearing a Public Interest Litigation (P.I.L.) filed by Disability Rights Initiative, Mumbai, the High Court, in September 2004, had asked the C.E.O. to have Braille ballot sheets in at least a few polling booths in the state. Acting on the direction of the court, the C.E.O. had Braille ballot sheets at a few polling booths during the elections for state legislative assembly.
In April this year, the C.E.O., in a report to the Advocate General, mentioned that the statistics from the last general elections for the Legislative Assembly showed that the response to Braille enabled machines was lukewarm. Only 346 visually impaired voters cast their votes at the 38 assembly constituencies spread over Mumbai (17), Mumbai suburban district (17) and Thane (4).
Ballot papers printed by the National Association for the Blind and the Association for Blindness and Low Vision cost Rs. 8.50 per paper. The total cost incurred to have Braille enabled ballot papers at the 9,718 voting stations was Rs. 92,514.
“Considering the fact that out of a population of 1,10,10,170 only 346 people availed the facility, the method of allowing the voters have companion of his or her choice to associate and help exercise the franchise appears to be a better option.” argued the advocate representing the C.E.O. He further mentioned that the populace was not literate in the rural areas and hence it would be a waste of funds to have the facility made available outside urban areas. He also argued that statistics from other states have also been called and even those are not very encouraging. In Hyderabad where the Braille enabled E.V.M. facility was made available, not a single voter came to vote.
The Court appreciated the efforts of the C.E.O. to collect the data. However, the Court observed that the secrecy of vote should be given priority over all other considerations. Before the next election the facility has to be made available at every booth. A division bench of Chief Justice Dalveer Bhandari and Justice S. J. Vazifdar observed that the first time round people might not have been aware of the facility, but the C.E.O’s office should give wider publicity to the issue.