24,000 cops can't vote today

Police personnel and election officers will be unable to vote as they haven't received postal ballots; some senior cops say subordinates should have taken the initiative themselves.

It is ironical that those entrusted with the duty of ensuring that you are able to exercise your right to vote will not be able to avail of it themselves.

Duty first: Senior Inspector Shamsher Pathan led a patrol party through
the lanes of Antop Hill on the eve of the BMC polls

More than 24,000 police personnel -- including Home Guards, SRPF jawans, Mumbai police officers and constables -- will not be able to vote today because they haven't applied for postal ballots. They will be on election duty in various wards, manning polling stations that they cannot leave for a moment, not even to go vote.

Their only option was to send their vote through post, for which they must apply at least 15 days before the day of election, and a vast majority of them haven't done that.

"We asked our people to cast votes through postal ballots. But I admit that in the course of duty, a lot of officials are unable to vote," said Raj Khilnani, DG, Homeguards.

Every constable was posted at the booths on February 15, the day before voting. They will have to provide security for the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) at the voting centers. "My colleagues and I were instructed to assume duty on Wednesday, and not to leave the booth. I will return home on Thursday night. I have not been given any postal ballot, nor have my seniors requested for it," said a constable attached to the Marine Drive police station. 

For most, this is the story every election. Said a constable attached to the Andheri police station, "I have not voted in the last three elections as I was posted on election duties. I have not got the postal ballot papers this election as well."

According to Commissioner of Police Arup Patnaik, around 2,375 city police officers, 20,982 constables, 2,000 Home Guards, five companies of the State Reserve Police Force and others of the Rapid Action Force, have been deployed for election duty. 

DIY, say sr cops
Ideally, senior inspectors must submit their requirements of postal ballots needed by the staff at their respective police stations. This year as well, they were asked to coordinate with ward officers or returning officers for the same. But few availed of the option. Some were not even aware it exists.

Said Senior Inspector Vijay Bhoite of D N Nagar police station, "Those interested should take some initiative themselves and come forward to ask for their postal ballots or arrange for it." Concurred another senior officer. "Policemen have got into the habit of depending on seniors for everything."

The justifications do not mean that the seniors will not face the problem themselves.

Said Senior Inspector Shamsher Pathan of Antop Hill police station, "I stay in Dongri and would have to commute for an hour to go vote, and I can't do that. I will have to keep a watch in my jurisdiction round the clock; there are many sensitive booths."

"Every senior police inspector has been asked to check his requirement for postal ballot papers," said Sharadprasad Yadav, joint commissioner of police (administration), Mumbai police.

In fact, the status quo has bred indifference even on the part of the poll contenders, who do not bother to go canvassing in police colonies. "Only the wives of these officers and constables will be able to vote, and that is not a significant number. So contenders choose to concentrate on other areas rather than wasting their breath in these," said a police constable attached to the Shivaji Park police station.

But police officers aren't alone in this exclusion. "It's not just us. The Mantralaya and schools staff who will be posted by the EVMs will also not be able to cast their votes," added a police officer.

Officials speak
"Those who want to vote may resort to postal voting. But men actively involved in duty will not be able to leave their posts to go vote," said Nisar Tamboli, spokesperson for the Mumbai police.

"It's too late now. If they haven't got the postal ballots, we can't help it. Messages were issued, asking them to apply for postal ballots one needs to apply three days before," said Assem Gupta, additional municipal commissioner who is in charge of the elections.

Ready to vote
The Mumbai police has provided two new emergency numbers through which people can reach the police in case of booth capturing or some such incident.

Commissioner Patnaik said, "There are 883 sensitive booths, and 211 are hyper-sensitive centres [1 centre has 4-7 booths]. Besides these, there are 163 areas we have identified that are sensitive. So far, we have seized 24 firearms and 140 sharp weapons as a preventive measure and have registered 148 election-related cases.

We have externed 83 persons and taken action against another 1,773 under the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code to ensure that everything goes smoothly on election day."

As a government holiday has not been declared on the polling day, government offices have been asked to give some time off to their staff so they can go and vote. Central government employees may come two hours late or leave two hours early.

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