Low turnout by NGOs upsets BMC plan to educate voters

Civic body, in cooperation with non-governmental organisations, wanted to spread awareness among Mumbaikars about the importance of voting

With only 46 per cent of Mumbai's population turning out for voting in the 2007 civic polls, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC),  in a bid to create more awareness, had invited NGOs to help.

But the plan has received a setback due to the lack of interest displayed by the invitees. The civic body has set up booths for citizens to resolve issues about their electoral cards and add as many people to the eligible voters' list as possible.

Even in this process it was expecting cooperation from NGOs. Only six turned up. "We were expected to get responses from 50-60 NGOs.

But after looking at the turnout, we have decided to scrap the idea, as these organisations don't seem interested. However, there are some NGOs who are going out of their way to create awareness and spread the message on the importance of voting," said Ramesh Arote, an assistant election officer from BMC.

A few NGOs have been teaching citizens the importance of
voting and spreading awareness about it

"Also, there are NGOs, which are run by politicians and they are doing the work of spreading awareness anyway," said another official from the election department.

Do the maths
A one-month long campaign in October-November was aimed at inviting NGOs, self-help groups and senior citizens' organisations to join the BMC for spreading awareness about the coming elections and to coordinate with civic agency officials and citizens at the voting booths in various constituencies.

BMC will be setting up 8,416 voting booths across 2,056 locations, of which only 39 will be on the first floor, keeping in mind the needs of disabled persons and senior citizens. In comparison, 6951 booths were set up in the 2007 elections, of which 1660 were on the first floor and 92 on the second floor.
Through its campaign, the corporation has added nearly three lakh names to the electoral rolls in the past three months and now the city has 1.02 crore eligible voters.

NGO speaks
James John of Action for good Governance and Networking in India (AGNI) praised the corporation for realising that it has to include NGOs in its awareness campaigns.

"But it is essential that they target only groups that work for governance, elections, voting, citizens' awareness, etc.

Also they should steer clear of organisations with political biases as that could create severe complications," said John. He also urged people to vote intelligently. "They are choosing a representative for themselves and he or she cannot be of a criminal background," he said.

What your vote is worth
The State Election Commission has also hiked the election budget this time wherein Rs 35 per citizen would be spent unlike Rs 23 in 2007. Last time, Rs 19 crore was spent on 83.86 lakh people and it is estimated that this time nearly Rs 35 crore would be spent on about a crore people during the elections.

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