Aged men and women made to run from pillar to post
The first phase of the local body elections held on Monday was marred by complaints and confusion in some places as some voters' names did not find place in the electoral list despite them holding valid voter's identity card; some were given slips containing wrong polling booth numbers, some others had no clue as to the polling station in which they had to cast their votes and so on.
M. Nagarajan and his wife of Central Bank Colony at Viswanathapuram Extension here had gone to the Madurai West Panchayat Union Middle School at Mudakathan where they had reportedly cast their votes for the last local body polls, Parliamentary elections as well as the Assembly elections. But this time, they were told that it was not the polling station they were supposed to come.
“Neither the government officials nor party men came to our house to issue booth slips. So, we presumed that this must be the booth and came here with our voter's ID cards. Last time our locality was under Anaiyur Municipality which has now been merged with the Madurai Corporation. So, there seems to be a change in the polling booth and officials are now asking us to go to Kosakulam,” Mr. Nagarajan said.
If this was the case of the couple who had to shuttle between polling stations, the inconvenience faced by S. Alagarsamy, a 75-year-old, was much more. He had come to the polling station with a handwritten booth slip that contained the polling booth number, where he was supposed to vote, as Booth No. 46. However, on verification, the candidates' polling booth agents, seated inside the booth, found that the septuagenarian's name was not found in the electoral list available with them. The frail man, who could not walk without support, was sent out of the polling station stating that the booth number might have been written wrongly in the booth slip.
The voter turnout was not as high as it was for the recently held Assembly elections. Yet, the police ‘bandobust' (security) at the polling stations was very high. Government college students, who were part of the National Service Scheme, were roped in for security arrangements carrying badges which identified them as ‘Special Police Officer.' Some of them were even wielding ‘lathis' (batons).
S. Karthi, a student of Government Arts College at Melur, said that they were paid Rs. 450 for four days of duty. “We have already worked for two days. Today is our third day,” he said. The security arrangements were so high that the entire stretch of Prasad Road at Narimedu was cordoned off. Vehicles were not allowed to ply on the road and even children were prevented from riding their bicycles.
There were also complaints over declaration of holidays for the elections. A Government counsel practising in the Madras High Court Bench here said that it was not fair on the part of the High Court to have declared a holiday for the first phase of local body elections on Monday and not for the second phase scheduled for Wednesday.
“The court has announced that the court staff would be given permission to come late after casting their votes on Wednesday. But there is no word about the lawyers. Many of the advocates practising in the Bench hail from southern districts and the elections in our local bodies are scheduled for Wednesday. Why should we be denied a holiday for exercising out democratic right,” he asked.