E-ballots for NRIs but not migrant workers within India

Election Commission, Supreme Court and Union Government seem far more anxious to make it easy for NRIs to cast their ballot than in extending similar facility to migrant workers within the country



Photo by Subrata Biswas/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Subrata Biswas/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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NH Web Desk

With the Supreme Court nudging the Centre to inform it this week what the Government plans to do to provide e-ballot facility to Indians living abroad, chances are that NRIs, estimated variously to number between 11 million and 25 million, will soon be able to cast their vote in elections here without having to travel to India.

Till 2010, names of NRIs not residing in India for more than six months used to be struck off the voters’ roll. By an amendment in the Representation of People Act in 2010, NRIs who lived abroad were allowed to vote even if they did not reside in the constituency for more than six months.

But they were required to be physically present at the polling booth. Therefore, NRIs who wished to cast their vote had to travel to India for the purpose.

A group of NRIs has been active since then to ensure that they are allowed to vote by postal ballot as members of the armed forces are. The other proposal was to allow them to vote by proxy so that people authorised by them could cast the vote. There was a suggestion that they be allowed to cast their ballots in the Indian diplomatic missions abroad.

The Election Commission, however, held that use of the Internet or use of postal ballots would be unsafe. It had instead proposed e-ballots for use by NRIs, a proposal which has been lying with the Government since 2015.

Last week former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi informed the Supreme Court that contrary to what the Government had claimed, there was no need to amend the RPA Act to provide e-ballot facility to NRIs. Tweaking the rules, he argued, would be sufficient for the purpose. When members of the armed forces were allowed to cast postal ballots, he had argued, there was no reason why NRIs from Kerala had to come all the way from the gulf to cast their vote.

Ironically, neither the Election Commission nor the Government or the Judiciary seem aware of the plight of migrant workers within the country, who too are denied their voting right unless they are in a position to travel to their respective constituency.

The anomaly allows political parties to mobilise an army of migrant workers, who are given train tickets, to travel back home at polling time to support parties which paid up. Allowing them rights similar to NRIs will obviously go a long way to plug this electoral malpractice.

The number of migrant workers within the country is clearly much higher and according to some estimates as high as 30 per cent of the population.

Central Government’s affidavit expected to be filed this week is eagerly awaited.

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