Police personnel and electoral officers were not even wearing masks at my polling booth in Otteri. It was alarming to note that there was no social distancing. When I asked a policeman why he wasn’t wearing mask, he laughed and said that it’s on his chin. If this doesn’t frighten us, what else will,” said a resident of Otteri.
“There was a long queue at 10.30 am at the elementary school in Kolathur, with no social distancing. Sanitisers were not given when I went to the booth. As there were no dustbins, the used plastic gloves were strewn around the premises,” said Vinod K from Kolathur.
Not following the COVID protocols discouraged some of the people from voting due to fear of infection. “People in our apartment who went to vote in the morning informed us about the crowd and violations. So, many of us have decided to not cast our vote,” said a person from Purasaiwalkam. When asked, Health Department officials said they had put all safety measures in place and informed the electoral officers about their implementation. The officials added that the public did not follow the regulations as instructed by the officials on election duty. Noting that Collectors and electoral officers were responsible for ensuring that the safety measures were adhered to, Health Secretary J Radhakrishnan claimed that no major issues were reported barring a few minor incidents at some districts.
Elderly, disabled face hard time at booths
Unsatisfied with the arrangements at polling booths in the city, voters with disability and elderly complained of accessibility issues at most of the booths. In the absence of wheelchairs and ramps, some had to use crutches to climb the stairs while some others had to be carried by their family members.
“My polling booth at a government school in Tiruvanmiyur was not disabled friendly. I had to climb stairs. There were no wheelchairs nor any person to assist us. The election is always like this for disabled persons,” said disability rights activist TNM Deepak.
Activists blamed lack of proper planning for the poor arrangements for disabled voters at polling stations. “There should have been a State level committee to ensure such problems did not occur. Across the State, most of the booths did not have wheelchairs. Though mandatory, volunteers to help the elderly and disabled were absent in most booths,” added S Namburajan, general secretary of Tamil Nadu Association for the Rights of All Types of Differently Abled and Caregivers (TARATDAC).
Long distance to be covered on foot and staircases were complaints raised by both elderly and disabled voters. “It is difficult for me to climb the stairs to reach the polling booth due to a knee injury. How are we expected to vote,” asked G Sivakumar, a 70-year-old from Velachery.
Senior Citizens’ Group of Besant Nagar president V Chandra Sekhar, a 71-year-old disabled senior citizen who uses a walking stick, had to struggle at Olcott School in Besant Nagar. “The distance from the school main gate was very long. There was only one broken wheelchair for hundreds of disabled senior citizens. The gradient of the ramp was too steep, so we had to seek help from a policeman,” he said.
Relocated residents find their names missing from voters’ list
Residents who were relocated from slums in Korattur and Villivakkam to other areas complained that they could not vote on Tuesday as their names were removed from the voters’ list in their respective constituencies.
Residents of Ayapakkam slum clearance board quarters staged a protest as 2,802 of them could not vote as the election officials told them that their names were not in the voters’ list.
The families, who earlier lived in Kakkanji Nagar in ICF near Villivakkam, were relocated to the quarters in Ayapakkam. Officials said their names have been removed from the updated list.
They staged a road roko and demanded that they should be allowed to vote by the end of the day or cast their votes by post, failing which they would return the government documents.
Similarly, about 300 voters, who were relocated to Padappai from Korattur, were also removed from the rolls. While 200 families were relocated to the slum clearance board quarters in Padappai, 300 of them travelled to Ambattur and reached the Corporation school in Padi Kuppam to cast their votes. However, they were dejected after they were told that their names were removed. As they got into an argument with the election officials, the police had to intervene.
More bizarre was the experience of M Vijaya of Saligramam in Virugambakkam constituency. “When I checked with the officials, they said I am dead as per the details they have. But my husband Manoharan who died two years ago is still there in the voters’ list,” Vijaya said.
Teachers complain lack of food, transportation facilities
The fervent requests from the teachers, who were on poll duty, to provide food and transportation were not met on Tuesday.
Teachers, who were asked to report at 5.30 am, and some of them worked since Monday night, claimed that all security personnel, including police personnel, were provided lunch and transport facilities.
“I came here on Monday night. We had to stay in the schools and were asked to report for duty at 5.30 am to keep everything ready before 6.30 am. We hardly had time to have breakfast and were forced to skip our lunch as we were not allowed to go out,” Tamizhaga Tamiz Aasiriyar Kazhagam joint secretary R Dhandapani, who worked in Anna Nagar polling booth, said. About the transportation issue, he said, “The polling time was extended till 7 pm and after that, we need to arrange EVM boxes and slips generated. To complete all the works, it will take till midnight and teachers, who do not have own vehicle, had to stay back in the schools,” he added.
He also claimed that the association members from across the State reported that toilet facilities were not improved at the schools.
Tamil Nadu Teachers Association president PK Ilamaran, who was also on poll duty, said his forum had been demanding the Election Commission and the government to provide facilities such as food and transportation for teachers during every election.