Tamil Nadu

He ensured postal ballots for railway staff

V. Ramkumar is a Chief Office Superinten-dent in the Madurai division of Southern Railway.  

For former loco pilot V. Ramkumar, it has always been a matter of regret that he missed several opportunities to exercise his franchise since being posted as an assistant loco pilot in the Railways in 1994.

He is not alone. Many other railway staff, like guards, travelling ticket examiners and Railway Protection Force personnel, have missed the opportunity to vote on several occasions as they’ve had to work on the day of polling.

But when Mr. Ramkumar came to know that the Election Commission of India (ECI) had, for the first time, extended the option of postal ballots, which was until recently available only to those engaged in poll work, to people aged above 80 during the Bihar Assembly election, he found a ray of hope.

Without wasting time, Mr. Ramkumar, now Chief Office Superintendent in the Madurai division of the Southern Railway, wrote to the ECI in January, seeking the extension of the postal ballot facility to on-board railway staff.

“Pilots, guards and TTEs on trains are away from the headquarters for 24-48 hours at a time. They cannot get leave on election day as uninterrupted train services have to be ensured,” he said.

While the ECI was campaigning for 100% turnout in polls, the lack of postal ballots for these essential workers was undermining the objective, he said.

The ECI promptly responded to his request. It stated that the Ministry of Law and Justice had already amended the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, to provide the option of postal ballots to persons notified under clause (c) of Section 60 of the Representation of People Act, 1951, including absentee voters employed in essential services.

Mr. Ramkumar then referred the issue to the office of the Chief Electoral Officer, Tamil Nadu, seeking details of procedures to be followed by railway employees to obtain postal ballots before the election schedule is declared, and followed it up with a reminder.

According to him, only after he threatened to seek legal remedy did the CEO’s office list 10 posts in essential services, including in the Railways, media, aviation and shipping, that were eligible for postal ballots.

“The significance of the new order is that 30% to 40% of the running staff and RPF personnel will always be away from the headquarters. These staff will now have the opportunity to cast their votes,” he said.According to Mr. Ramkumar, this would not have come to pass naturally as persons employed in essential services in other sectors, especially those in State government departments, have not been included in the list sent by the CEO.

“This is despite the fact that the Election Commission of India, in its circular dated February 27, 2021, authorised employees of various services in Assam. Among them employees of Electricity Department, BSNL, Health workers, fire services, ambulance services and employees involved in long distance services of Assam State Transport Corporation could get the postal ballots.

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Printable version | Apr 19, 2021 12:31:10 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/he-ensured-postal-ballots-for-railway-staff/article34015452.ece

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