Accept EC's suggestion on NRIs voting rights, Centre tells SC

New Delhi: The Centre today told the Supreme Court that the EC's recommendation to extend voting rights to NRIs through postal ballots have been accepted in letter and spirit.

Taking note of the submissions, a bench comprising Chief Justice H L Dattu and A K Sikri asked the Centre to inform it about "further steps taken to implement the suggestions."

The bench posted the matter after eight weeks, asking the Centre to do the needful at the earliest. "Since the views and recommendation have been accepted let them go ahead with the follow-up. They will have to carry out the follow-up process at the earliest," the bench said.

The Centre's stand was clarified by Additional Solicitor General P L Narasimha, who said certain amendments are
required to be carried out and the ministry of law is working on them, taking into consideration the EC recommendations.

On November 14 last year, the Supreme Court had asked the Centre to make its stand clear on the EC's proposal for
allowing NRIs to cast their votes through proxy voting and e-ballots in polls in India. The apex court had then granted four weeks time to the government to respond to the proposal prepared by a 12-member committee led by Vinod Zutshi, Deputy Election Commissioner, for 'Exploring Feasibility of Alternative Options for Voting by Overseas Electors'.

In the report, the committee has said it is of the view that e-postal ballot, where blank postal ballot is transferred electronically to NRIs and returned by post, can be employed after validation of the process and pilot implementation in one or two constituencies.

The report further said the process can be scaled up for Parliamentary elections, if found feasible, practicable and
meeting the objectives of free and fair polls.

The committee comprising officials from the EC, Law Ministry and MEA had gathered opinion from all sections before
submitting a report to the apex court. The poll panel had contended that the move to allow NRIs to use proxy voting on the lines of defence personnel and e-ballot facility will require changes in the law and a legislative framework.

According to the provisions of the Representation of People Act, a person who is a citizen of India and who has not
acquired the citizenship of any other country and is otherwise eligible to be registered as a voter and who is absent from his place of ordinary residence in India owing to employment, education or otherwise, is eligible to be registered as a voter in the constituency in which his place of residence in India, as mentioned in his passport, is located.

The court had earlier asked the EC to place before it the report of the committee set up by it to "study various
available options for the purpose of NRI voting".

The apex court was hearing a batch of PILs in which it has been contended that the existing provision which mandates
NRI voter to be physically present in the constituency to exercise his vote was discriminatory and violative of
fundamental rights.

The petitioners, including NRI Shamsheer VP, have submitted that over one crore people will be entitled to cast their vote if NRIs are allowed to vote from overseas.

The PILs said 114 countries have adopted external voting and among them are 20 Asian countries. It said the external voting could be held by setting up polling booths at the diplomatic mission, or by postal, proxy or electronic voting.

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