Govt to table Bill in winter session of Parliament to allow NRIs to vote

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Satya Prakash

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 10

The Centre on Friday told the Supreme Court that a Bill to amend the election law would be introduced in the coming winter session of Parliament to allow Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) to vote through postal or e-ballots.

Following the Centre’s counsel PK Dey’s statement about proposed amendment in the Representation of People Act, 1951, a three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra adjourned hearing on petitions demanding voting rights for NRIs for 12 weeks.

Dey wanted the court to adjourn the matter for six months as the Bill would take some time to be passed.

Attorney General K K Venugopal had on July 21 told the top court that a decision had been taken to amend the RP Act and not just amend the rules framed under it.

The court had then granted two weeks to the Attorney General to seek proper instructions on how the government wanted to implement the decision that would benefit around two million NRIs who would be able to vote in Indian elections without being physically present in the country.

The Centre and the Election Commission had already agreed to the idea in principle and the only issue was the manner in which it has to be implemented, the Supreme Court was informed last week.

The top court had on July 14 asked the Centre to inform it within a week if it was going to amend the election law or rules to enable NRIs to cast vote in India.

“This is a petition of 2014. Every year you keep saying ‘we will amend’. You said this in 2014, 15, 16 and again … this is not the way your government runs,” an angry CJI Khehar had told the Centre’s counsel on the last date of hearing.

The top court is seized of petitions filed by Nagender Chindam and Shamseer VP, seeking directions to the government and the EC to allow NRIs to vote through postal ballot.

Terming it a “major step forward”, Chindam – who is chairman of Pravasi Bharat, London – said NRIs voting in Indian elections will help the country as a whole.

“We appeal to Parliament and our honourable prime minister to expedite the process so that all NRIs put in their effort to make India the world leader.”

NRIs could be allowed to vote through postal ballot by either changing the election law, i.e., the Representation of the People Act, 1951, or by amending the rules framed under the Act, the Bench was told.

After the proposal takes concrete shape, NRIs will not have to fly down to their hometown in India during polls to cast their ballots. At present, only a negligible number of them come to India to exercise their franchise because of the time and money involved in the process.

The Narendra Modi government had told the Supreme Court in October 2015 that the Union Cabinet would soon consider a draft Bill to allow e-voting by NRIs.

The top court had asked the government to enable e-voting by NRIs within three months after making necessary amendments to the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951.

The government told the court that it had approved e-ballot voting for Indian passport holders abroad, as recommended by the EC. It had told the top court that a proper process would be put in place after amending the relevant laws.

The EC had said the e-postal ballot system was foolproof and as it had almost no risk of manipulation and violation of secrecy of voters.

News Courtesy : TOI,Tribune

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