ECI’s move to ‘name and shame’ workers who don’t vote in Gujarat polls draws flak
A newsreport has claimed that Gujarat’s chief electoral officer has signed 233 MoUs to monitor the electoral participation of the workers employed at 1,017 industrial units in the state
A newsreport which claimed that the Election Commission of India (ECI) had signed Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with over 1,000 private firms in Gujarat to monitor industrial workers who choose not to vote in the state has invoked criticism from constitutional experts as well as political parties.
An Indian Express report published on October 18 contended that Gujarat’s chief electoral officer has signed 233 MoUs to monitor the electoral participation of workers employed at 1,017 industrial units in Gujarat.
The names of all those who avail of a holiday on the voting day but do not turn up to vote will be published on a website or notice board, as per the MoUs.
Reacting to the newsreport, Jagdeep Chhokar, the co-founder of the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) said that such MoUs violate the voters' right of secrecy.
Calling any such move “unconstitutional”, Chhokar said that the ‘None of the Above (NOTA)’ option was introduced by the ECI to defend an individual’s right to vote with confidentiality.
Referring to an SC ruling in PUCL vs Union of India case, following which NOTA was introduced in 2013, Chhokar said, “The identity of those who choose not to vote as well as those who choose to vote will be revealed, which is illegal”.
The SC, in its ruling, had said, “We direct the Election Commission to provide necessary provision in the ballot papers/EVMs and another button called NOTA may be provided in EVMs so that the voters who come to the polling booth and decide not to vote for any of the candidates in the fray are able to exercise their right not to vote while maintaining their right of secrecy.”
The PUCL – a human rights body founded by Jayaprakash Narayan in 1976 – had filed a petition in SC demanding the inclusion of the NOTA option in the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) so that the voters who decide not to vote for any candidates are able to exercise their right not to vote while maintaining their right of secrecy.
The Congress has also criticised the MoUs signed between the ECI, a constitutional body, and private firms to track down the industrial employees who choose not to vote.
“The ECI’s job is to conduct free and fair election. What will the ECI do if owners of the private firms choose not to vote? Will their names also be published?” asked Gujarat Congress spokesman, Manish Doshi, dubbing the MoUs as “naming and shaming MoUs”.
“What will the ECI do if the owner of a certain firm dictates the employees to vote for a certain political party? In Gujarat, most of the corporates or business houses are aligned with the ruling party and this is known to everyone,” he added.
Former CEL N Gopalaswami, however, sad that the signing of such an MoU is aimed at increasing voter participation and is perfectly valid.
“It would be a much better strategy to incentivise voting. But for those who choose not to vote but avail of a paid holiday, naming and shaming is the least ‘punishment’ one should be given. It is a perfectly valid step,” he said.
“During my time and even today the ECI has an unspoken rule – never conduct polling on a Monday or a Friday in metropolitan cities. Else everyone will travel out on a long weekend. We deliberately keep it on a Wednesday or Thursday,” he added.
Defending the move, an ECI official who did not wish to be named, said, “The purpose is to increase participation in the urban areas, especially in cities, not to defame anybody. ECI announces paid holiday under section 135 (B) of the Representation of the People Act. Many private and limited companies also do the same…So people should vote.”
It is worth noting that section 135 (B) of the Representation of the People Act 1951 says that every registered voter employed in any business, trade, industrial undertaking, or any other establishment and entitled to vote in a Parliament or Assembly election has to be granted a paid holiday for the purpose.
State and Central governments always notify polling day as a paid holiday within the meaning of section 25 of Negotiable Instruments Act 1881.