A project officer with Arunachal Pradesh Energy Development Agency, in March he had walked for eight days in Arunachal Pradesh’s Changlang district to look after solar power projects in remote hamlets off the electricity grid.
But, this week, Perme is hogging all the limelight as he set out for a remote village in the state.
Reports stated that he will be stationed in the back of beyond Gandhigram booth in remote Vijoynagar tehsil. Perme is the presiding officer of a team of polling staff which is responsible for the conduct of voting in Vijoynagar.
Arunachal Pradesh goes to polls on April 11, the first of seven-phase polls in India. Assembly and general elections will be held simultaneously in the state.
In Arunachal Pradesh, election staffs are chosen on their ability to walk – for days. Perme and his team left for Vijoynagar on April 4 last – way ahead of the polls. The reason: Their booths are so remote that the only way to get there is by foot!
Perme’s team would have had to walk eight days from Miao sub-division to Gandhigram, where 1,338 voters are on the electoral rolls. The walk from Miao to Vijoynagar, a distance of about 160 km, alone takes about a week on foot. Gandhigram, set about 10-12 km from the border with Myanmar, is another eight-hour walk from there.
This year, though, the Indian Air Force came to their rescue. On a clear morning, all four teams, 32 staff in all, were flown in helicopters up till Vijoynagar – a sortie that prompted the Election Commission to send out a press statement.
To emphasise the area’s remoteness, the statement reported that salt and sugar cost over Rs 200 per kg there. For 43-year-old Perme, trekking such long distance is a “run-of-the-mill” kind of affair.
For the 2014 Lok Sabha election, he had walked two days from Anini to Engalin in Upper Dibang Valley. “The helicopters helped a lot but walking for 8-10 hours is normal here and my health is fine,” he said.
The area does not have regular mobile and phone networks. One of the four privately-owned satellite phones in Vijoynagar is being used by assistant returning officer, Tage Rumi, who is overseeing the four teams. The security staff has wireless sets for brief messages.
Food is carried by each team on their own which comprises rice and pulses. Cooks also accompany the teams. They also carry their own bedding.
Finding a place to retire for the night is usually not a problem, said Gyamar Mamang, 35, a junior engineer, who is leading another party. “We stay close to the porter tracks and there are sheds,” he said.
Most presiding officers in this group are engineers from various departments for whom foot marches are routine, said Changlang’s district election officer, RK Sharma. “Generally, able-bodied men who are not more than 45 years old are chosen,” added Lod Takkar, a nodal officer assisting the chief electoral officer of Arunachal Pradesh.
Several polling stations in the state lack basic amenities. Out of 2,158 polling stations, over 600 did not have toilets and drinking water. Over 630 polling booths did not have electricity. Mobile phones are a distant dream and 114 relied entirely on satellite phones and wireless sets.
“We know who can walk and who can’t, so selection is from the tough ones,” said Sharma. He added that most of the polling staff are young people “who have done this before”.
In Perme’s team, the four polling officers come from diverse departments – public health engineering, treasury, education, and health and family welfare and have a wealth of experience in conducting polls.
Days after the first four teams left, another seven teams were flown by helicopters from Koloriang to Longding Koling, or Pipsorang, in Kurung Kumey district. They will conduct polling in Pipsorang and Tali tehsils.
One of them was led by Gyamar Gagung, 33, a child development project officer, responsible for the implementation of the Integrated Child Development Services.
His team needs to reach Nabiya village, which has less than 500 residents. The walk is shorter but the terrain is difficult.
The weather is the reason why the poll teams are being flown earlier. Helicopters fly only when the weather permits and it often does not.
Because of the simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly elections, the teams are carrying twice the number of electronic voting machines than would be required for voting in one. Each polling party also has porters to carry the voting and paper-audit-trail machines.