The city of Bengaluru has been festooned with banners, posters and hoardings urging us to vote. The fence facing the BBMP head office was, earlier this week, covered with pennants in Kannada and English, reminding us all that it was our duty to vote. Newspapers carried prominent ads and announcements, reiterating the same message.
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Many of us who wanted very much to vote, however, found a wide chasm between what the administration urged and its intentions to facilitate what it wanted citizens to do. I have been a voter for some decades, and exercised my franchise at every election. As a permanent resident of the city I had no reason to expect that my name would be struck off the electoral rolls.
When I went to cast my vote during the 2013 assembly elections, I was in for a rude shock – my name, I was told, was not in the list. I was asked to go from one booth to another and check with the presiding staff, but at the end of one whole hour of trying to find out what had happened, I had to return home without voting.
So this time, when it was announced that we could register at the nearest Bangalore One from November 1, 2013, I went over on November 5. “Come after a week, we don’t have the forms yet,” they said. It is an awkward distance – too short to take a bus or auto and too far for a senior citizen to walk. I went over a second time, in the first week of December, filled up the form, and handed over photo, address proof etc.
After a month!
A month later, I checked and was told that it would take longer. The third time I went, I was asked to go ask at the Corporation office in my area (which is in the opposite direction, involving a walk of another 800 metres).
The staff at the corporation office said I had to go back to the Bangalore One centre where I had handed in my form. (This corporation office, incidentally, is on the first floor at the Jayanagar shopping complex, which means senior citizens and others having trouble climbing, get penalized – in theory there is a lift but either there is a long queue — not an orderly queue, of course, but a free for all when the cage descends) or it is stuck on some upper floor, or there is no power. I got online and checked, and found that my name was not in the list yet.
The media announced a vigorous campaign for enrolling voters during March, with a lot of fanfare (extra counters for the whole day on Sunday the 9th, etc) so once again I went to the first floor corporation office where I was given a form to fill again. “Come at the end of the month and collect your card,” I was told. I went on March 26, and was told the person in charge was on ‘election duty’ and not available at the office, and to come again “later.” I asked for the mobile number of this employee and called him. He was indignant. He was “away on election duty,” I had to come back on April 5th.
I went over at 10.15 AM on April 5th. “He comes only after 11 am,” said one employee at the BBMP office, while another said it would be best if I could come around 3 PM. “Better come on Monday, at 3 PM,” advised a helpful peon. “I have seen your card, it is ready, but it cannot be handed over unless Mr Shiv Kumar is here.” And Mr Shiv Kumar is out on “election duty”.
‘Avarey beku, ivare beku..’
Isn’t my visit to the BBMP also connected to elections? If the card is ready and the concerned employee is away on election duty, can’t I sign for the card and collect it? “No,” avarey barbeku,” he has to come, I was told. I asked to see the supervisor, or official in charge. There was dead silence, not one of the roomful of employees would direct me or give information.
“Maybe you were not home when someone came to verify address after you filled the form at Bangalore One,” Suggested one of the employees. Unless they give a specific time and date, it is not possible for citizens to stay home endlessly waiting for “verification.” Also, under the law, form 4 has to be left behind if someone came for verification and found the door locked. Why was no such form left in my letter box / Where is the proof that someone came to verify? No answers, of course.
Monday 3 pm saw me hauling myself to the BBMP office once again. The staff were all having lunch. I was ready to wait. But one officer said , trying to be helpful, I would have to go to the other office, where my property tax is paid, 800 metres away in another direction, to get my card. The man sitting next to him said, the cards will be delivered door to door, from April 10th onwards. A third employee suggested that I wait at home from 10th, and if I don’t get my card, to come back again.
How many senior citizens will persist, in the face of such dallying and contrary instructions ? Why couldn’t the BBMP put up clear instructions, telling us where, when and how the cards could be collected ? “Madam, the election commission has not issued clear instructions, so we are not sure of the procedure ourselves,” offered another employee. “You don’t need the card to be able to vote, you can still go to the usual booth,” added another employee. In that case, what was this whole exercise about enrolling? How much money went on publicity, banners, pennants, ads? Why do BBMP employees offer contradictory instructions – go here, go there, come again, stay home to wait for it, come next week, etc?
Finally I got it!
That was my “tipping point’. I sat down, grumbled loudly about how I was an elderly person making my seventh visit, and pulling out my media accreditation card announced that I was going to report on my experience in the newspapers. My mobile rang at that moment, and the staff heard me say that I was at the BBMP office and was not planning to leave till my issue was resolved. That did it.
They began scurrying around, one said he had personally keyed in my details in the computer, while another advised that it would be “wrong” to complain through the media. A third instructed the computer operator to get an extra print out and prepare my card and hand it over. Within three minutes, they had laminated a new card and handed it over to me. “If one more card is delivered at your door next week, please return it,” they said.
I thanked the staff and left, clutching the precious piece of ID, and wanting to flaunt it like some Olympic medal. Hurrah, I got it ! At last ! ON the way home I ran into five others – all educated middle class citizens who have had their names deleted from the electoral rolls, for no fault of theirs. On what grounds ? What’s going on?