Election Commission of India in its meeting held today under the Chairmanship of Chief Election Commissioner Shri Rajiv Kumar along with EC Sh Anup Chandra Pandey, took note of the details of CEC’s visit to one of the farthest by foot polling stations in village Dumak and village Kalgoth in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. Sh Anup C Pandey added insights from his rich experience as DM Pithoragarh.
Polling parties travel around 18 Kms on foot in tough hilly terrain from three days prior to the polling day. They also carry and protect the entire election material including EVMs and VVPATs. There are 440 remote/difficult Polling Stations (P-minus3 category) where they take 3days of arduous commute to reach to the Polling Stations.
During the interactions, CEC was informed that remote areas like Dumak village had a 71.14% voter turnout and Kalgoth village recorded 80.45% voter turnout in recent elections. Female voters participated in equal numbers. It was further noted that in villages like Dumak and Kalgoth, about 20-25 % registered voters are unable to cast their vote in their Constituencies as they are required to move out of their village/State broadly on account of their jobs or educational pursuits. This situation opens up the opportunity to explore possibilities of much awaited leap forward to facilitate remote voting by migrant voters.
It was also noted by the Commission that in contrast, during 2019 GE quite a few urban constituencies saw a poor, less than 50% voter turnout. The Commission noted with concern the abysmally low voter turnout in some of the metropolitan/city areas despite the fact that polling stations are setup within 2km for any voter in urban areas. The need to address voting apathy in urban areas was felt.
After detailed deliberations, the following was decided by the Commission:
- Election Commission of India places on record its deep appreciation for enthusiastic and high participation by the voters of these remote villages of Dumak and Kalgoth and similarly placed villages, which contributes to make India a vibrant democracy.
- ECI also salutes the grit, determination and faith of the dedicated team of Polling Officials in keeping the hope and spirit of democracy reigning supreme.
- Empathizing with the dedication of polling personnel who perform election duty in remote and difficult areas, the Commission decided to double the remuneration of the polling officials going to the polling Stations 3 days in advance (Till now the remuneration for Polling Officials used to be a uniform per diem amount for all alike). Chief Electoral Officers of the States and UTs shall specifically notify such PSs for enhanced remuneration during election.
- Over the years, various new roads have been constructed in rural areas. Therefore, the route map for Pminus3 and PMinus2 PSs shall be reexamined by all DEOs/ ROs to determine shortest and safest route to the PSs.
- The Commission noted that while the EVM-VVPAT machines have been technologically designed to get triggered in ‘Unauthorized Access Mode’ whenever there is any unauthorized attempt to open the machines (and thus become unusable because of the one-time programmable chip). The Commission decided to develop Special water/shock proof, extra protective backpacks/ cases to carry EVM-VVPATs and safeguard the machines provided to all such teams to aid hands free movement in difficult terrain.
- The Commission further directed all DEOs/ROs to visit the P-3 Polling Station locations one year in advance of the General Election to the Legislative Assembly or the Parliament. CEOs would also visit some polling stations themselves.
- The Commission further directed that all DEOs/ROs would identify at least the 5 lowest voter turnout booths in each assembly constituency. They shall visit these booths to identify factors for low voting turnout and take targeted interventions to mitigate the factors hampering the voting process.
- In order to address voting apathy in urban areas, the Commission decided to undertake focused awareness activities in this respect, the Commission also took note of the fact that under the Negotiable Instruments Act, the polling day is declared as a holiday for all workplaces with the primary purpose of facilitating voting by the employees. All Central/ State Government Departments / CPSUs/ State PSUs and Corporate entities with 500 plus employees shall appoint a nodal officer to ascertain leave availing but non-voting employees. Special Voter Education and Electoral Participation Awareness sessions would be held for such non-voting members of these organizations.
- Further the Commission shall continue to expeditiously home deliver EPI Cards to newly enrolled first time voters. It would equally be their duty to cast their vote. Specially focused Voter Education and Electoral Participation Awareness campaigns would be undertaken for young voters.
- Voters migrate from the place of their registration to cities and other places for education, employment and other purposes. It becomes difficult for them to return to their registered Polling Stations to cast their vote. The Commission felt that time has come to explore possibilities of remote voting, maybe on a pilot basis. A Committee would be set up to examine the issues of migrant voters. Given the fact that Voters and Political Parties are the primary stakeholders, the wider consultation with all stakeholders including Political Parties would be started thereafter.