Ham radio is the only mode of communication for polling and security personnel during the ongoing assembly polls in some remote corners of West Bengal which have been left untouched even by mobile phone towers.
Armed with solar-powered batteries and ham radio handsets, a team of licensed ham radio operators were agents of last mile connectivity between North 24 Parganas district control room at Barasat and those on the field.
“This is the first time that ham radio operators are being used in the election process to provide connectivity. We are very proud and are doing it free of cost as a service to the nation,” Ambarish Nag Biswas of West Bengal Radio Club (amateur club), said.
They have set up their equipments and infrastructure in 47 polling premises, each manned by a licensed amateur ham radio operator.
Most of such unconnected areas are in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Sundarbans archipelago, famous for its tigers and mangrove forests.
Tanusree Batabyal, returning officer of Hingalganj Assembly constituency, said some islands were so remote that poll personnel had to cross two rivers on boat and then take a motorised van to reach polling booths.
“There are no mobile towers and sending a team to pass on a message to the control room will take lot of time. So these radio operators are our only help to be in constant touch,” he said. Even polling personnel had to start travelling two days ahead of polling day to cross geographical barriers.
Most of these villages are without electricity also and radio batteries have to be charged with solar panels. Ham radio uses radio frequency spectrum to exchange messages with other radio operators.
Each one of them are assigned a call sign for identity. At the Barasat control room, a team of four operators are stationed to receive and send all messages.
Biswas, an engineer by profession and ham radio operator by hobby, said they were passing to and fro voice messages in between district control room and polling officials.
“We passed on a message to the control room about an EVM which malfunctioned. A replacement was sent later on so that polling could go on smoothly,” he said.
The youngest in his team is his 15-year-old daughter Saborni Nag, who is also a licensed amateur radio operator.
All others are housewives, doctors, school students or working professionals who share a common passion for radio. The equipment was provided to them by the Hyderabad-based National Institute of Amateur Radio (NIAR).
Since the Sundarbans belt is a coastal river, criss-crossed by a complex network of rivers and creeks, proper reception of all kinds of radio signals can be tricky at times. “So we are using three types of signals - VHF, UHF and HF radio frequency,” Nag said.
The 47 polling premises where they are providing their services are in Hingalganj, Madhyamgram, Minakhan, Swarupnagar, Baduria, Haroa and Sandeshkhali.