Mr. Om Prakash Rawat is the Chief Election Commisioner for the Election Commission of India (ECI). He joined ECI as a commisioner in 2015 and has served in his current role since January 2018. His full biography can be found at the end of this interview. The interview with the Chief Election Commissioner is posted unedited below.
Article 324 of the Indian Constitution provides for the Election Commission, its powers and functions for maintenance of the Electoral Roll and conduct of elections in a free and fair manner. Article 326 provides for the Universal Adult Suffrage. The concerned provisions of the Constitution and the law that flows there from cast an obligation on the ECI for conduct of free, fair and inclusive elections based on adult suffrage.
ECI's broad policy framework on Accessible Elections emanates from the mandate.
Elections provide for exercise of choices by the voters to elect their representatives based on adult suffrage and it calls upon the Election Machinery to provide for that (i) eligible citizens are registered as voters in the electoral roll and (ii) voters are empowered to make choices for their representatives by casting the vote. Persons with Disabilities (PwD) constitute a section of society that requires an affirmative action wherein the electoral machinery has to reaches out to them for registration as voters and provide suitable facilities at the polling stations to enable them exercise their franchise.
Elections provide a unique opportunity to enhance participation and change public perceptions about potential of the PwDs and include their voice as equal citizens.
Directions of the Commission on the subject focus on mapping of PwDs, so as to identify polling station wise, the number of PwDs and their disability so as to plan for their facilitation during elections.
Assured Minimum Facilities at Polling Stations include ramps, tactile signages, wheel chairs, priority in voting, volunteers, accessible parking, voter facilitation centres, accessible voter awareness material and accessible websites, involvement of NGOs, CSOs, System Sensitization and Training besides use of technology to facilitate PwDs.
Further, ECI's Strategic Plan for 2016-25 spells out long term strategic interventions as well as immediate interventions for enhancement of inclusion of PwDs as an integral part of its election management including voter education.
'Accessible Elections' have been adopted as the theme for this year's (2018) National Voters' Day to further strengthen initiatives and interventions on making electoral process completely accessible to all persons with disabilities in line with ECI's commitment to 'No
Voter to be Left Behind'.
Consultation with stakeholders is an important step towards formulating any strategic intervention. ECI conducted two levels of consultation ahead of the National Consultation. Districts and State level consultations were held with all stakeholders in the two months preceding the National Consultation. The findings of District Consultation made the base for State level consultations and the findings and recommendations from the State Consultations were further discussed and examined during the National Consultation.
Civil Society Organisations, Individual Experts, Ministries, political Parties besides the Chief Electoral officers of every State/UT was part of the two day National Consultation. While the first day the Working Groups consisting of a healthy mix of participants, deliberated upon identifying barriers and working on solutions for identified disability assigned to each group, Day 2 witnessed presentations by the Working Groups to the entire house. A panel was also set up to give inputs to further add to the presentations.
At the end of Day 2, based on the deliberations, the 'Strategic Framework on Accessible Elections' was launched with 14 points covering all major aspects that are to be covered to make electoral process accessible to persons with disabilities.
The Commission also made some landmark announcements during the closing session of the Consultation i.e. Issuance of Braille Elections ID cards (EPIC) for Blind; An accessible Mobile Application for PwDs; Appointment of Disability Coordinators at AC, District and State Level; Cascaded training on Accessibility to Poll officials; Accessible Photo Voter Slips; Accessible voter awareness and training content including sign Language for the convenience of deaf persons; Free Transport Facility for PwDs to the polling station and a new Accessible Division in India International Institute of Democracy and Electoral Management (IIIDEM), New Delhi.
The aim of the three rounds of Consultation was to evolve a Framework on Accessibility based on which detailed Strategic and operation plan on accessibility will be chalked out for the upcoming elections. The Strategic Action Plan is in the final stages of draft and we expect the operational plan evolving from the Strategic Action Plan to be rolled out in the upcoming provincial elections which are due toward the end of this year.
The Consultation also threw up probable partners who can help in the process implementation at ground level and can work with the Chief Electoral office in different capacities.
In addition, the Consultation also helped in sensitising departments and political parties who can play a crucial role in making elections more and more accessible to persons with disabilities.
Pioneering work has been done by various EMBs and international institutions such as WHO, International IDEA, IFES, UNDP, USAID etc. to support inclusion and voter education programs for the PwDs in many countries.
The guidance emanating from international Treaties such as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, UN Convention on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities has helped in shaping the policies and legislations of different countries on inclusion of the PwDs in electoral participation.
Different countries have developed impressive strategies for voter education, outreach and facilitation for inclusion in coordination with other stakeholders through well designed campaigns and technology based interventions to support their inclusion and a notable
good work has been done in the area.
We can gain from each others' experience, especially from the challenges faced by other countries and how they overcame those challenges, and if not what to learn from their experiences.
Rather, this is the underlying principle behind the launch of VoiCE.NET, Voter Information, Communication, Education Network (VoiCE.NET) the Global Knowledge Network for sharing knowledge, resources and expertise on Voter Education, which was
launched on 20th October 2016 at the International Conference on Voter Education for Inclusive, Informed and Ethical Participation held at New Delhi. The Global Knowledge Network has as members 25 Election Management Bodies and representatives from UNDP,
International IDEA, IFES and Malaysian Commonwealth Studies Centre. The magazine Voice International, brought out under VoiCE.NET, in its third issue had the theme 'Special Initiatives for Enhancing Participation of PwDs' (Sept. 2017) and carried articles that provided rich experience and knowledge to the readership on the subject.
The cause of inclusion of persons with disabilities needs to be kept in mind while formulating new initiatives/procedures for conduct of free and fair elections meeting emerging challenges and this thought has been uppermost in my mind while contributing
to this cause throughout my stint at Election Commission of India since 14th August, 2015.
Shri Om Prakash Rawat assumed charge as Chief Election Commissioner of India on 23.01.2018. He joined the Commission as Election Commissioner of India on 14.08.2015. He is retired Indian Administrative Service (lAS) officer of Madhya Pradesh cadre (Batch 1977). Prior to his appointment as Election Commissioner of India, Shri Rawat had retired as Secretary to the Govt. of India, Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, Department of Public Enterprises on 31.12.2013 on superannuation.
Born on 2nd December, 1953, he did his MSc. in Physics from Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi and thereafter MSc. in Social Development Planning in 1989-90 in the United Kingdom. During his long career, he served at various important portfolios at Centre and state level. He served as Collector, Narsinghpur (1983-86) and Indore (1986-88) in Madhya Pradesh. In 1993, in his first stint at Centre, he served as Director/Jt. Secretary in the Defence Ministry. During this tenure, he was deputed to South Africa in May, 1994 as United Nations election observer to oversee first post-apartheid elections in that country. On return from central deputation, he served as Commissioner (Women & Child Development), Registrar (Co-operative Societies), Secretary (Cooperation), Secretary (Agriculture) and State Excise Commissioner in Madhya Pradesh. He was appointed Principal Secretary to Chief Minister in August, 2004, where he continued until January, 2006. Later he also served as Principal Secretary (SC/ST Welfare Department), Govt. of Madhya Pradesh when he received Prime Minister's Award on 21st April, 2010 for excellence in Public Administration for innovative group initiative
"Recognition of Forest Rights". He took over as Additional Chief Secretary, Narmada Valley Development Department and as Vice-Chairman, Narmada Valley Development Authority in September, 2009 and continued there until April, 2012 when he again went on central deputation.
During his second tenure at Centre, he served as Secretary at Department of Public Enterprises in the Ministry of Heavy Industries from April, 2012 till 31st December, 2013 when he retired.
As Secretary, Department of Public Enterprises, he served as ex-officio President of the Governing Council of International Centre for Promotion of Enterprises (ICPE), Ljubljana, Slovenia, an intergovernmental body initially promoted by United Nations.