National Voters’ Day – Accessible Elections
Churchgate, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400020
On the occasion of National Voter’s Day, the Office of the Chief Election Officer – Maharashtra, through the Collector and District Election Officer, Mumbai City, organised a special programme in association with their Civil Society Organisation (CSO) Partner, V Citizens Action Network (VCAN) and College Partner, Jai Hind College.
The programme, held at Jai Hind College on 25th January 2019, was part of the country-wide celebration of National Voter’s Day, held in 2019 on the theme of ‘No Voter Left Behind – Accessible Elections.’
As the audience waited to be seated, several short films produced by the Election Commission of India on the theme of Voter Awareness were screened. The event began with a prayer sung by Harsh Chitroda, a student of the College, and the lighting of a lamp, after which the Panelists were welcomed with tulsi plants by the anchor Shri Deepak Velankar.
Thereafter, the special message on the occasion of National Voters’ Day by the Chief Election Commissioner of India, Shri Sunil Arora was played for the audience.
He congratulated the citizens and voters of the nation on the occasion of National Voter’s Day. Exhorting those who were eligible to vote to register as voters, he stressed the importance of greater participation to making a stronger democracy. He particularly encouraged the first time voters to participate. He then informed the audience about the Election Commission’s website, app, and their new voter helpline number ‘1950’ which would be active very soon.
Shri. Shivaji Jondhale, IAS, Collector & District Election Officer (DEO), Mumbai City, then administered a Pledge to the audience before delivering his welcome address. This pledge was taken at the same moment by students and youth all over the nation at the various programmes being conducted by the Election Commission of India.
In his address, Shri Jondhale, stressed the importance of increasing voter turnout in Mumbai, and informed the audience that while the voting percentage had gone up from 39% in 2009 to 58% in 2014, it still had a long way to go. He also addressed the measures taken by the ECI to make it easier for People with Disabilities (PwDs) to vote including Braille text and accessibility improvement measures.
The students of Jai Hind College then took the stage for a skit on the importance of being an informed voter, which also included a demonstration and explanation of the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) and the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT), and how they ensured tamper-proof elections. Through their performance, they also emphasised how the ECI had taken several measures including wheelchair ramps, disabled friendly toilets, and other facilities for making the exercise of casting one’s vote more accessible for PWDs.
A student of the college, Jatin Devjani, who himself is a PwD, then addressed the audience on the issue of participation of the PwDs. He mentioned how the ECI was committed to providing Assured Minimum Facilities in all Polling Stations across the country.
Mariam Kanchwala, another student of Jai Hind then spoke about the issue of low voter turnout in Maharashtra particularly in urban and higher income areas like South Mumbai. She exhorted the audience to show the power of upright and informed voters and that every vote counts.
This was followed by an introduction of the Panel by Smt. Indrani Malkani, Chairman – VCAN, who also moderated the Panel Discussion. She then briefly introduced the topic at hand and explained the format of the event.
Dr. Jagdish Patil, IAS, Divisional Commissioner, Konkan Division, began his speech by speaking on the diversity of the Konkan Division, which also covers the city of Greater Mumbai and its surroundings, and the difference in voting pattern of the rural and urban sectors. He mentioned that even within urban areas, there were different voting patterns in areas like slum pockets. He said that it was important to make an informed choice and understand the different views and priorities of candidates regardless of whether one is voting for a local body election or electing an MP to the Lok Sabha.
He mentioned how there were many divides in our country including the rural-urban divide and others, but said that people rarely spoke about the divide between citizens and the administration. He suggested that the best way to ensure good governance was to increase voter participation and to ensure an informed choice.
Before Shri Jondhale began his address, Smt. Malkani mentioned that students of several colleges both in Mumbai and Delhi had joined online.
Shri Shivaji Jondhale, IAS, Collector & District Election Officer (DEO), Mumbai City, then spoke on some of the characteristics of the Mumbai City District, and shared that there were several challenges they had to deal with, particularly in slum pockets. He mentioned that it was important for voters to check their names on the Voter Roll.
Due to an official emergency, Shri Anil Valvi, the Joint Chief Electoral Officer – Maharashtra, had to return to Mantralaya, and was presented a memento by Smt. Mukadam before leaving.
The floor was then taken by Dr. Ashok Wadia, Principal, Jai Hind College, who as the Principal of the hosting college, welcomed the audience. He thanked the ECI for including Jai Hind as a partner and spoke about the importance of educational institutions in developing the nation’s ‘demographic dividend’. He said that while civics may have been taught in school, civic sense was not always imparted. As an educational institute, he revealed that Jai Hind College’s mission was to nurture good citizens as well as good leaders.
He then spoke about the Campus Ambassador Programme wherein student volunteers would spread the importance of electoral participation among the larger community beyond the campus as well. He said that the duty of the voter does not stop after they cast their vote, but they must engage with the government and practice good civic sense as well. He charged the youth in the audience to ensure that their parents, relative, and neighbours come out to vote on Voting Day.
He then offered Jai Hind College as a venue for setting up a Polling Station as they have several facilities for the PwDs as well.
Following this, Shri. Nilesh Singit, Consultant, Researcher and Trainer in the Disability Sector, and Consultant with VCAN, shared his experiences of his first time voting and how it was very difficult for him to access the Polling Booth. He revealed that the Bombay High Court in 2004 had passed an order to ensure disabled-friendly facilities at Polling Stations. He spoke of the process to bring Accessibility issues related to Elections in the forefront, and how according to him Election Commission of India has made notable progress on addressing the challenges faced by PwDs.
He mentioned that considering discrepancy in data on how many disabled persons were there in India, the best way to get an accurate picture is to ensure PwDs come out to vote. He requested the audience to help any PwDs they know on voting day and urged them to be proactive in that regard.
Smt. Indrani Malkani, Chairman, V Citizens Action Network (VCAN) then took the audience through the Role of Co-operative Housing Societies in promoting electoral participation. This was particularly relevant in the context of the Election Commission’s directive to ensure that members of Managing Committees of CHSs act as voluntary Booth Level Officers.
The final Panelist, Smt. Farogh Mukadam, Deputy Collector & Deputy District Election Officer, Mumbai City then spoke on the machinery to conduct Elections, and helped the audience understand the processes and the terminology relating to Voting. She spoke of the challenges in preparing voter lists containing tens of thousands of names, particularly without a dedicated staff for Elections.
She then explained the structure of the machinery and pointed out the sheer scale involved in conducting elections.
The floor was then opened to questions from the audience, as well as those who had logged-in online.
The first question was whether people who turned 18 on the Election Day could vote. The Panelists informed the audience that the cut-off date for voting was set on the First of January of that particular year.
To a question on whether the Aadhar Card could be integrated with the Voter ID Card, the Panelists responded that while they have considered the issue, the matter was pending at the Supreme Court, and they cannot take any action till the matter is resolved. Further as per the Aadhar Act, the Aadhar number is allotted to all Residents in India, but exercise of voting lies with the citizens of India not residents.
When asked about banning derogatory language used in campaigns, the Panel mentioned that there was a Model Code of Conduct in Place and the offended party was free to file a case.
To a question on the issuing of new Smart Cards to voters in place of the older Voter ID Cards, the Panel said that while Smart Cards are only currently being issued to new voters, however, they may be issued to existing voters in the future.
On a question on illegal migrants and bogus voting rights, the Panel clarified that Aadhar was not accepted as a proof of citizenship and that if a complaint was received, the ECI along with the Local Police would investigate and take action if required.
To a student who asked about the security of the voting machines, the Panel asked the student to come up on the stage and demonstrated the EVM and VVPAT in front of him and the audience.
To a question about malfunctioning of EVMs, Smt. Mukadam explained the process of how disputes about EVMs were handled, but clarified that no allegations of hacking had ever been proved.
When asked about electoral malpractices and bribery, Dr. Patil spoke about the measures the ECI has taken to combat this issue including surveillance of candidates and remote monitoring of Polling Stations.
To a question of students coming from different parts of India and how they could give proof of residence if they were staying in hostels or as paying guests, the Smt. Mukadam assured that once the college certifies that the person is a bonafide student of the college, the local address mentioned in the college records will be taken as proof of residence for registering the concerned student as a voter.
On the challenges of monitoring Social Media, Smt. Mukadam revealed that the ECI had a Social Media Monitoring Team and kept a close watch.
Smt. Farogh Mukadam then delivered the Vote of Thanks, which was followed by the presentation of Mementos to the Panelists and official photos of the Panel and the Campus Ambassadors.
The session ended with the rendition of the National Anthem.
To visit our special Election 2019 page, click here.
To view the pledge taken at the event click here.
To view the photos of the event, click here.
To view the video of the event, click here.