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Indian State to Use Amateur Radio to Assist in Local Elections

09/28/2010

In one of the remotest parts of India, there are virtually no communication sources -- no cell phone towers, no landlines, no Internet access. But in democracies, elections are the key, even in the most isolated parts of the world. The Indian state of Kerala -- located on the western side of India’s southern coast near the tip of the subcontinent -- will be holding its local elections -- called panchayat -- in October. The tribal hamlet of Idamalakkudi is located in Idukki, one of Kerala’s 14 districts. It is to this village where upwards of 1400 people will gather to cast their votes for their local leadership for the Idamalakkudi tribal Grama Panchayat. And as isolated as the village is, members of the Emergency Communication Society and Idukki Ham Radio Club will be on hand to assist.

“One of our biggest challenges was the setting up of a communication network in these tribal [areas],” said Idukki Collector Ashok Kumar Singh. “During the elections, the election officials deputed to Idamalakkudi would be totally cut off from us. So we thought of Amateur Radio as a solution to this problem.”

“The district administration has sought our help to provide the latest input related to the elections there and [to set up] a temporary mobile station at the hilltop near Edamalakudy,'” said Manoj Galaxy, a member of the Idukki Ham Radio Emergency Communication Society.

“We convinced the authorities of the role played by ham radios during contingency situations like the floods in Mullapperiyar,’’ Manoj T R, custodian of the ham radio club in Idukki told the Express, a business newspaper in India. “A team of 20 members of the club have been deputed to operate the radios and our members are going to Idamalakkudi in the first week of October for the trial operations,’’ he said.

Galaxy told The Hindu -- a daily newspaper in India -- that the repeater station at the Tenth Mile near Cheruthoni will provide the support for the functioning of the election-related work in remote areas. A temporary mobile station at Idamalakkudi will serve as a medium of communication between the election officials and the district election office at Painavu. There is no other way of communication and wireless sets, and mobile telephone is of little help, he said.

“Though the use of ham radio is at an early stage of development in the district with only 30 members, it has served as the main communication source during natural calamities and emergency situations.” The present capacity of the tower is 1.5 W, but Galaxy told the newspaper that if it is raised to 20 W, it would serve better during the emergency situations.

According to Devikulam Revenue Divisional Officer Rathan Khelkar, people from as far as 25 km walk to the community center-cum-school in Idamalakkudi to vote in the elections, held every four years; voter turn-out is about 60 percent. To get to Idamalakkudi, Khelkar said election official travel by jeep, but “the jeep only goes up to Pettumudi, past Iravikulam National Park. From there, the officials are then accompanied by two carriers, two policemen and a guide and will have to traverse through 10-12 km of forest. The journey will take at least three hours. Since the trek is tedious and dangerous, the authorities usually assign young and fit officials to go to Idamalakkudi. The officials carry food packets with them. They will also be provided a generator, as the hamlet does not have electricity.”

Hams will also be on hand to provide service between the collectorate at Painavu to other remote areas, such as Chakkimali, Kannimali and Vairamani, he said. Chakkimali is a marooned hamlet in the catchment area of Idukki reservoir, which generates electricity for entire Kerala. The village has yet to get electricity. But on election day, 600 voters will walk 10 km to board a special boat that will take them to the nearest voting booth. After an hour of boat journey, they will walk another 2 km to cast their votes.  -- Thanks to The Hindu and the Express for some information.



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