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Makeshift Tent, Boat Ride: How Poll Panel Ensures No Voter Is Left Behind


Lok Sabha polls will begin on April 19.

New Delhi:

Travelling through jungles and snow-capped mountains, wading through rivers, carrying EVMs on horse and elephant backs, setting up polling stations in tents, shipping containers and booths in hamlets with lone voters – the EC has to literally move mountains to conduct polls at the remotest and inaccessible places.

From Gir forest, the last surviving natural habitat of Asiatic lions, to world’s highest polling station at a height of over 15,000 feet above sea level, riverine polling station in a village on India-Bangladesh border reachable after a one-hour boat ride to a polling station set up in a shipping container in an islet in Gujarat, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has many feats to its credit when it comes to holding elections.

According to Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar, the polling parties carry EVMs traversing the farthest and toughest terrain crossing makeshift bridges to ensure “No voter is left behind”.

“We will walk the extra mile so that the voters don’t have to. We will go in the snowed mountains and jungles. We will go through horses and helicopters and on the bridges and even ride on elephants and mules just to ensure everyone is able to vote,” he said while announcing the schedule for 18th Lok Sabha polls this month.

In the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, a total of 94 special polling booths will be set up for internally-displaced persons of Manipur to vote at the relief camps. Ethnic clashes between the Meitei and tribal Kuki communities in Manipur since May last year have resulted in the loss of over 200 lives.

Over 50,000 displaced people will be eligible to vote at these booths which will be set up in or near relief camps.

According to Election Commission records, Tashigang in Himachal Pradesh’s Lahaul and Spiti has the world’s highest polling station located at the height of 15,256 feet above the sea level.

“All 52 electors of the village turned up to exercise their franchise on November 12, 2022, notwithstanding the freezing cold. Himachal Pradesh had 65 polling stations at the height between 10,000 to 12,000 feet and 20 polling stations above the height of 12,000 feet from sea level,” said an EC report.

Polling personnel had to wear life jackets and were accompanied by divers to a riverine polling station in Kamsing village in West Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya.

“The village, which survives on betel nut farming and solar electricity, has the farthest and non-motorable polling station of Meghalaya. Situated 69 km from district headquarters in Jowai, and 44 km from sub-district headquarter (tehsildar’s office) Amlarem, the village is approachable only by small countrymade boats,” reads an anecdote shared by EC.

“It takes an hour long cruise to reach the village along Indo-Bangladesh border. A polling station was set up in the village for its 35 voters, 20 malc and 15 female, drawn from 23 families that inhabit the village. The polling personnel had to wear life jackets, and were accompanied by a few divers,” it added.

According to “Leap of Faith” a book on polls published by the EC, since 2007, a special polling station has been set up in Banej, tucked deep in the forests of Gir, for just one voter – Mahant Haridasji Udasin. He is a priest at a Shiva temple located in the area.

A booth is set up in the forest office near the temple. A dedicated polling team is appointed to set up the booth and make necessary arrangements for the lone voter to exercise his right.

“The Baneshwar Mahadev Temple is located deep inside Gir Forest, the last surviving natural habitat of Asiatic lions. Political parties do not canvass in the area for fear of wild animals. The polling team comprising 10 persons travelled 25 kms to set up a booth for a single voter.

“Haridas Udaseen is the successor of Mahant Bharatdas Darshandas, who was the sole voter in the polling station for nearly two decades, before he passed away in November, 2019,” the book reads.

In another hamlet with lone voter in Arunachal Pradesh’s Malogam, election workers travelled 300 miles over four days across winding mountain roads and river valleys for the single voter in 2019. Malogam is a remote hamlet in forested mountains in Arunachal Pradesh, close to the border with China.

Polling stations have also been set up for the Siddis, descendants of East Africans who came to India between the 14th and 17th centuries, in the Talala area of Gir Somnath district. There are over 3,500 such voters in the area, as per the official data.

“Siddis attained prominence in history in the 17th century as rulers of Janjira, an island off Murud, a coastal town in Raigarh district of Maharashtra, Janjira, including Jafrabad, in Kathiawar region of Gujarat, was a princely state in British India, ruled by Siddis,” the EC archives said.

“Siddis predominate in Jambur, a village in Gir Somnath district, previously a part of princely state of Junagarh. For the first time in electoral history, during the 2022 Gujarat elections, a special polling station was set up in Jambura- Madhupur. Siddis even fielded an independent candidate. Voting in Jambura was held in the first phase of the elections,” the book added.

Far off the country’s east coast, on the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the EC teams braved crocodile swamps for nine voters in 2019.

Gujarat has 1600 km of coastline, longest for any Indian state. The seascape is dotted with islets, a number of which are inhabited.

“EC facilitated voting for the first time in the islets in 2022, obviating the need for electors to travel to mainland. At Aliabet, in Bharuch district, a polling station was set up in a shipping container. With minimum facilities assured for 217 electors, they were spared travelling for more than 80 km to vote in the nearest polling station in Bharuch.

“Similarly, five polling stations were set in Siyalbet, an island village under Rajula AC, in Amreli district. This spared 4757 voters of the village of trekking 15 kms to the nearest town Jafrabad,” it said.

The Election Commission had in 2022 decided to double the honorarium of polling officials, who have to proceed for election duty over three days in advance to reach the polling stations located in remote and difficult areas.

Previously their honorarium was on par with others.

The decision came in the aftermath of CEC Kumar’s visit to Dumak and Kalgoth villages in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand.

“He trekked 8 kilometres in 3 days to reach the polling stations part of Badrinath constituency, which went to polls in 2022. While recognising the courage and determination of polling officials, he stressed on the necessity of having updated route maps indicating the safest and shortest course,” an EC official said.

In 2022, the EC had also directed to provide special water and shockproof backpacks to carry EVMs to aid hands free movement polling parties in difficult terrains. 

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)



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