The Election Commission of India has told the Law Ministry that they are technically and administratively ready to extend the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) to NRIs.
The Representation of the People’s Act, 1950
The Representation of People’s Act, 1950 provides for the allocation of seats and delimitation of constituencies for election, qualifications of voters, and preparation of electoral rolls. This Act has provisions related to the conduct of election and punishments for any violation and other disputes. Recently, the Election Commission of India has decided to amend Section- 60 of this Act to extend the voting facility to NRIs via ballot method, by which they can cast their vote from their residing place.
EC Proposes Proxy Voting
In 2014, the Election Commission of India took up a proposal to permit NRIs to cast their vote after receiving several requests. After which, it made a consultation with political parties and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on postal ballot voting for NRIs. Wherein, it expressed strong reservations over attesting to the declaration that voters will have to send along with their marked ballot papers. Among political parties, BSP, BJP, and the Communist Party of India have expressed this method is not a viable option due to time constraints. The Congress Party did not favor this method. The only party which gave its fullest support to this postal vote for NRIs was the National Congress Party.
In 2015, the EC wrote to the government proposing proxy voting (the voter appoints a proxy to vote on her behalf) and postal ballots for overseas electors. In 2018, the government tried to pass this demand through an amendment to the Representation of the People Act, 1951. The Bill was passed in Lok Sabha and was awaiting Rajya Sabha’s approval when it lapsed with the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha.
The EC recently, through a letter to the Law Ministry, pushed for postal voting rights for NRIs.
Can NRIs Vote in this General Election
Practically, India does not support e-voting. The only way a voter can exercise his franchise is by appearing physically in the polling booth. For personnel like armed forces, electors subject to preventive detention and election duty can cast their vote via postal ballot or proxy voting or by visiting the polling booth.
The said proxy vote is only available to armed forces, police, and government officials who are posted and residing outside India. To widen the scope of the franchise of the Common Man (citizens of India), the ECI has decided to extend the voting facility via the postal ballot for people residing outside India. Because of this, the franchise of those who won’t be able to appear physically in the polling booth will be upheld, and the percentage of voters will increase, which has the potential to impact the election results.
ETPBS to NRI
ETPBS was developed by the Election Commission of India with the help of the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing. It enables a citizen to cast his/her vote from their preferred location via an e-postal ballot. A citizen of India, absent from the country owing to employment, education, etc, who has not acquired citizenship of any other country is considered as NRI, and are eligible to vote.
Recently, the Election Commission has approached the Government of India to permit NRIs to cast their vote via postal ballot. The EC has stated that they are technically and administratively ready to extend ETPBS to NRIs for next year’s election. In the coming year, states such as Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Puducherry are going to have elections, where NRIs’ vote will play a major role
At present, the people (Indians) residing outside can cast their vote in their respective constituencies. This restricts many from casting their vote, the maximum being from Kerala. As per the Election Commission, this new postal ballot method creates a way for all NRIs to cast their vote. As per this system, the postal ballot is dispatched electronically and returned via ordinary mail to a person who is interested in casting his/her vote. For which, the person has to intimate the Returning Officer (RO) through Form 12, at least 5 days after the notification of election. After which, the NRI voter has to make his/her preference on the ballot and send it back with a declaration attested by an officer. Where such an officer is appointed by the diplomatic or consular representative of India in the country where the NRI is resident.
To extend this facility, there required an amendment to Election Rules 1961, said the Election Commission. This is a welcoming initiated by the Election Commission of India, with the use of technology, the NRI can cast their vote from their country of residence. But there are millions of people in India, who face difficulties to cast their vote as they are away from where they are registered to vote on polling day. The Election Commission must also look into this issue and address it as early as possible, as, in the upcoming year, some states in India are having state legislature elections. In today’s world, technology plays a vital role, so this issue may not be difficult to rectify.
Recently, the Lok Sabha passed a bill that proposes to amend the Representation of the People Act, 1951 to extend that voting facility to NRIs via ballot voting method in the elections to Lok Sabha and state assemblies, by which they can cast their vote from their residing place.
Swing in Election Results
According to a report, there are about 1 crore Indians settled outside India. Of whom about 60 lakh people could be above 18 years of age and are eligible to vote. Due to Covid-19, financial problems, and other related issues, many couldn’t travel to India to cast their vote. 60 lakh votes are a huge number that has the potential to decide an election result.
As per the UN survey, India’s diaspora population is the largest in the world with 16 million people from the country living abroad in 2015. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, 99,807 overseas voters registered for the voting facility in the country. Out of this 99,807, 87,651 were from Kerala. In reference to the provided data, it is very clear that NRI voters play a vital role in the election.
In the said method, it is still not clear whether voters will return the ballot themselves through an ordinary post or drop it off at the Indian Embassy. Which may then segregate the envelopes constituency-wise and send them to the Chief Electoral Officer of the state. And it is very difficult for the diplomats to attest to a large number of overseas electors. And such activity is even difficult in non-democratic countries.
The EC of India has expressed their readiness to provide ballot voting for Indians residing outside India. The commission has expressed this to the Law Ministry via letter on 27th November 2020. The letter also stated that it required an amendment in Election Rules, 1961, to extend the facility to NRIs.
The Honourable Supreme court of India has stated that it would hear the plea related to voting rights to NRIs in January 2021. The court stated this after it was informed that the bill to amend the Representation of the People Act is likely to come up before the Rajya Sabha in this winter session of parliament.
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