Voting rights for NRIs, migrant workers; SC takes note of AG’s assurance, closes decade-old PILs


PTI, Nov 1, 2022, 8:37 PM IST

PTI Photo

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday brought the curtains down on a nearly decade-old batch of petitions seeking directions to the Centre and the poll panel to allow postal or proxy voting by NRIs and migrant workers, after taking note of the attorney general’s assurance in this regard.

A bench comprising Chief Justice Uday Umesh Lalit and Justice Bela M Trivedi, at the outset of the hearing, made it clear that such matters which had led to the formation of a committee by the Election Commission and subsequent tabling of a Bill to this effect in one of the houses of Parliament cannot be entertained any longer.

“Sorry. We will just close this. These are the matters which are pending for the last nine-ten years,” the bench observed before closing them.

The bench said Attorney General R Venkataramani has assured that every step will be taken to ensure that the persons living outside and the migrant labourers are part of the electoral process and the voting facility shall be extended by maintaining the confidentiality of elections.

It said the notice on the lead PIL filed by one Nagender Chindam was issued in February 2013 and, thereafter, a committee was constituted by the poll panel to look into the matter “with regard to ways and means to facilitate voting for the NRIs and migrant workers”.

“The committee thereafter submitted a report in the court and the proceedings further indicate that the central government had accepted the recommendations made by the Election Commission and thereafter, decided to introduce the Representation of Peoples Amendment Bill in 2018 in the Lok sabha to amend a provision of section 60 of the Act,” it recorded in the order.

The amendment was intended to enable the overseas electors to cast votes through proxy, it said.

“The Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha. However, the same was not introduced in Rajya Sabha and as a result, the Bill lapsed. There has not been any development on that front thereafter,” it said.

The bench then proceeded to record the statement of the Attorney General that the matter was under consideration of the authorities concerned and a solution will be found to enable the overseas persons and migrant workers to cast their votes with confidentiality in that electoral process.

The bench said that when the first plea was filed in 2013, nothing was being done to enable such persons to cast their votes.

“The purpose with which the writ petition was filed has been served and now we see no reason to entertain this petition any longer. The petition is therefore disposed of,” it said, adding that the other subsequent pleas are also dismissed.

In 2018, the Centre informed the top court that a bill to amend the electoral law to allow NRIs to vote through postal or e-ballots has been passed by Lok Sabha and is likely to come up in Rajya Sabha in the upcoming Winter Session. However, it did not happen.

The bench has been hearing PILs filed by Chindam, chairman of the London-based Pravasi Bharat organisation, and other Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) including Shamsheer V P.

The petitions had said that 114 countries, including 20 Asian nations, have adopted external voting, which could be held by setting up polling booths at diplomatic missions or through postal, proxy or electronic voting.

The poll panel had earlier said the move to allow NRIs to use proxy voting on the lines of defence personnel and e-ballot facility would require changes either in the RP Act or in the rules made under the Act.

The Centre had said, in principle, it was agreeable to the recommendations made in the report prepared by a 12-member committee to explore the feasibility of alternative options for voting by overseas electors.

One of the petitioners had told the court that NRIs could be given the right to vote by making changes in the rules only and there was no need to amend the provisions of the RP Act.

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