Polling officials on plight of school with no basic toilet facilities

Makeshift toilet and washroom in the nearby jungle for polling officers stationed at Muthingkhong Government Primary School under 60/42 AC Pungro-Kiphire Constituency. (Morung Photo)

Rebecca Kits Jakhalu
Kiphire | April 19

With the 18th Lok Sabha elections underway, preparations in Nagaland have been focused mainly on voter assistance and poll booth readiness.

In the eastern part of the state, despite announcement of non-participation by the Eastern Nagaland Peoples’ Organisation (ENPO), booths were set up in all the constituencies and polling officials deployed for duty.

In compliance with the ENPO’s mandate, voter turnout on polling day in Eastern Nagaland areas was reported to be zero on April 19.

In the midst of it all, a different issue came under the spotlight. 

In the rugged and remote landscapes of Pungro sub-division, a polling station without basic sanitation facilities was highlighted by a polling officer stationed at Muthingkhong Government Primary School (GPS) under 60/42 AC Pungro-Kiphire Constituency.

On Friday, Thsakhongse A Sangtam, 1st Polling Officer at PS 42, Sector 11, highlighted the plight of the polling station in a video shared across WhatsApp. Due to non-availability of toilets and washrooms at the school, residents of the village prepared a makeshift toilet and washroom for the polling officials in the nearby jungle, as seen in the video.

In a stark contrast to the Open Defecation Free (ODF) claim of the government, the toilet was prepared in the open, with just the nearby trees offering some sort of cover. Wooden planks were used as footrest for the toilet, while the washroom was just a patch of cleared space among the trees.

Speaking to The Morung Express, Sangtam said that it was disheartening to witness the condition of their assigned polling station after “surviving” a harrowing journey to reach their destination. As part of the P-2 polling team, they left for their assigned posts on April 16.

P-2 booths are remote booths with unmotorable stretches, where polling personnel have to depart two days before the polling day.

According to Sangtam, along with the absence of the toilet and washroom, the school was also without a mid-day meal kitchen. Terming it dehumanizing to even have to think of defecating in the open, he expressed concern for the students of the school. “We are here only for some days, but what of the children who are enrolled in the school?” he queried.

As seen in the video, the school building, established in 2006, appears to have been freshly painted on the outside, and sleeping arrangements for the polling officials have been made in one of the rooms.

According to Sangtam, this is his fifth stint as a polling official, but none with a plight as this till date. As such, he appealed to the Nagaland government, the district administration and the school education department to look into the matter and alleviate the plight of the GPS. “It is my humble request to at least construct a small bathroom for the school students,” he added.

While clarifying that his intention of filming was not to post a complaint or personal grievance, Sangtam added, “We can overlook the conditions now, saying it doesn’t concern us as we may not be assigned here next time. But unless these conditions are highlighted, the students will continue to be deprived of basic amenities.”

Pungro–Kiphire Assembly constituency is one of the 60 Legislative Assembly constituencies of Nagaland, and it is in one of the remote parts of the state. Various posts and videos have emerged on social media showing election officials braving rough terrains to reach their destination as part of their preparations for the elections.

A recent clip shared by the Election Commission of India (ECI) showed poll personnel braving rugged terrain en route to the Hakumati polling station in Kiphire, while another clip doing the rounds show the poor conditions of a polling booth in one of the polling stations in Khongsa under Kiphire district as well.

Speaking to The Morung Express, a polling officer stationed at Khongsa Town shared that while voter turnout was zero, the officials were worried about the machines and other voting materials in case of rain. Polling officials also had to use the restroom in a neighbouring house as there were no toilets available in the polling station, he informed.

Months of work goes into the planning of conducting polls in remote areas, and several batches of election officials, including police personnel, are dispatched to distant locations for the election.

Braving natural and man-made challenges as highlighted, polling officials continue playing a pivotal role in ensuring the efficiency of the electoral process.