Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Grey Scale #4: A day's drama

I worked on ground zero during the RK Nagar by-elections a couple of months back. Though this article's timeline has expired, I believe the context is common across the country. So, I felt this shall be spoken here in this grey-scale column.
What was going on in the polling booths of R K Nagar Assembly constituency for the by-election brought to my mind, the Tamil proverb ‘Oru naal koothu’ (all for the sake of a day’s drama). With the by-elections around the corner, I took a stock at ground zero a week before the election, where the issue regarding basic facilities at the polling booths emerged.



What started out as a mild investigation, brought to light the ghastly condition of the schools, which were given a makeover as booths for the by-election.

A team of volunteers who had took up accessibility survey in the constituency a couple of weeks before my visit had found that most of the polling booths failed to meet the requirements of the Election Commission of India.

Poorly maintained toilet in an RK Nagar Corp School
Every election booth is supposed to have a ramp for the differently-abled to access the booth, restroom facilities for both men and women, drinking water, power supply and more. But, the volunteers found that most schools did not have any one or most of the facilities.

It was Hitesh one of the volunteers from the survey team who brought up this to me. “It is a must that a polling booth has gates for security purposes. Similarly, ramps are also needed for booths so that the physically-challenged voter is taken care of.”, he said.

But, the problem, the volunteers claim, is not this. “The EC can find the funds to meet these requirements all by itself. What would be the state of the school after that?” asked Hithesh.

He said the EC is setting up all the facilities temporarily. “Gates and wooden ramps are being installed in the schools for the time being. There are also cases where ceiling fans and water supply are installed by the EC – all on a temporary basis,” he added.

“If it can be done all of sudden just for one day, why can it not be done permanently? After all, elections are conducted only for that, right? – to give infrastructure to the people. And that, too, these are educational institutions where infrastructure is more important,” said another volunteer on condition of anonymity.

Ramp being brought to a poll booth in RK Nagar constituency
When I approached officials from the State government, it was a reply to the effect that ‘that is not our responsibility’.

“The Corporation should have constructed these ramps when the schools were built. It failed to do so at the time,” said an official of the School Education Department.

When a top official from the Greater Chennai Corporation was asked about it, he said, “Ramps are being constructed by us in all the new schools. But, in old schools there are no ramps as they were not mandatory at that time. So, we need funds to be released by the School Education Department for that.”

When asked about water facility and maintenance of toilets in the schools, the official declined comment.

- Santhosh Mathevan,
Chennai, July 26, 2017.

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