Supreme Court bench led bNew Delhi, Delhi Nov 9, 2022 (Issuewire.com) – y Chief Justice U.U. Lalit and Justice Bela M. Trivedi winded up its proceedings on a PIL filed by Kerala Pravasi Association and others seeking its direction to the Central Government to make provision for NRIs (Pravasi Indians) and migrant workers to cast their votes from the place of their employment or stay.
The Bench was hearing several petitions, including one filed by Dr. Rajendran Vellapalath, Chairman and Ms. Aswani Nambarambath, President of Kerala Pravasi Association represented by Advocates Kuriakose Varghese and V. Shyamohan, KMNP Law. In August 2022, the Centre and the Election Commission were asked by a Supreme Court bench of Chief Justice N V Ramana, Justices J K Maheshwari and Hima Kohli to share their response on the PIL filed by Kerala Pravasi Association.
The petition 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. After the passing of the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 2010, NRIs who had stayed abroad beyond six months have been able to vote, but only in person at the polling station where they have been enrolled as an overseas elector. However, only a very low proportion of overseas residents actually registered or turned up to vote. The provision of having to visit the polling booth in person has discouraged eligible voters from exercising their mandate.
The petitioners has sought directions to the Central Government to permit Indian citizens residing outside India to exercise their franchise under Section 20A of the Representation of the People Act (RPA), 1950 from their place residence or employment.
The Attorney General (AG) representing the Central Government of India R. Venkataramani submitted that the Centre had already considered the plea and that the Election Commission of India had been apprised of it as well. AG further has assured that every step shall be undertaken to see that persons living outside India and migrant labourers are still part of electorate and all steps must be taken to assure that and ensure confidentiality of election. Having recorded this, the bench decided to dispose of the petition.
The court noted that the government was aware of the issue and had even introduced a Bill to amend the Representation of the People Act to allow overseas Indians to vote by proxy. The Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill had however lapsed with the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha.
It sought alternative options/external modes to be provided to citizens residing outside India for exercising their right to vote without insisting on their physical presence at their respective polling stations in India on the day of polling. While Section 20A of the RPA provides special provisions for citizens of India residing outside India for exercising their franchise, the purpose and object of the legislation stands defeated as there is no corresponding provisions in the Rules framed under the Act to allow them to vote without being physically present at the polling stations of their respective constituencies in India, the petitioner submitted.
India has the largest immigrant population in the world, recording at a staggering eighteen million and the RPA provision which required NRIs to be physically present in their constituencies to cast vote went against fundamental rights under Article 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution, the Association highlighted in its petition earlier.
The efforts to give remote voting rights to NRIs had also seen the Election Commission prepare a report titled ‘Exploring Feasibility of Alternative Options for Voting by Overseas Electors’ and present it in the top court. The poll body said NRI voters could be empowered better by amending the law.
Kerala Pravasi Association
Source :Kerala Pravasi Association
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