The Bill to amend an Act that would allow NRIs to vote by proxy has lapsed, leaving Indians abroad in the lurch once again
A long-standing demand of some 31 million non-resident Indians (NRIs) to get voting rights will not be fulfilled in this coming general election either, as the Central government has failed to discuss and pass the Representation of People (Amendment Bill).
The Representation of People (Amendment Bill), passed in August 2018 in Lok Sabha, had to be passed in the Rajya Sabha to become an Act.
However, the Rajya Sabha, which convened for the Budget Session from January 31 to February 13 failed to discuss and pass the Bill, disappointing NRIs.
NRIs can, at present, cast their votes in the constituencies where they were registered. But they have to travel to India on voting day.
From West Asia, Indian political parties, like the Indian Union Muslim League, have arranged chartered flights from the UAE to Kerala in the past few polls, both state and national.
The amendments in the Representation of People Act 1950 and Representation of People Act 1951, if passed, would have enabled NRIs to cast votes through their proxies in the constituency.
The 1950 Act deals with the allocation of seats and delimitation of constituencies for elections, qualifications of voters and preparation of electoral rolls.
The 1951 Act provides for the conduct of elections and offenses and disputes related to elections.
Section 20A of the 1950 Act recognizes the right of an NRI to have her name entered in the electoral roll.
However, the right to vote is exercisable only in person.
In order to allow proxy voting by NRIs, Section 60 of the 1951 Act was amended by the Bill, by adding a sub-section.
It is that Section 60 which enables the Election Commission of India (ECI) to frame rules to allow the special procedure for voting by a special class of persons.
It is through an exercise of this provision that the ECI has allowed indirect methods of casting votes like postal vote, vote by wife and others.
The new proposed sub-section enables the ECI to frame rules to make a special procedure for any of the persons as is referred to in section 20A of the 1950-Act to cast his vote either in person or by proxy.
However, as the Bill has lapsed, NRIs will not get the right to cast proxy votes.
“As long as we don’t get voting rights, we won’t get our demands met. In the Indian style of democracy, only votebank politics work. Only if our voices are heard, our demand will be met,” Bino PP, a publishing group senior official in Oman, told The Lede.
“In 2018, when the Lok Sabha had passed the Bill, we were quite hopeful. The politicians have defeated us,” he added.
It was Dr Shamsheer Vayalil, UAE-based doctor and chairman of VPS Healthcare, who in 2013 along with Nagender Chindam of United Kingdom, who filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court seeking e-voting rights for NRIs.
Last July, Attorney General KK Venugopal had told the Supreme Court that NRIs could not be allowed to vote by merely changing the rules made under the Representation of People Act and a Bill was needed to be introduced.
The Supreme Court had asked the Centre to decide whether it would amend the electoral law or rules to allow NRIs to vote by postal or e-ballots in the polls in the country.
The Supreme Court took note of the fact that the Centre and the Election Commission were agreeable to the report of a panel that NRIs might be allowed to vote.
And this year in January, the Centre had told the Supreme Court that the Bill would be placed in the Rajya Sabha.
However, it has not happened.
Rafeek Ravuther, a migrant rights activist, told The Lede that there is no surprise in learning that the Bill was not discussed and passed.
“When it comes to non-resident Indians’ issue, the government is least bothered. It never is there in the priority list. If the Bill was passed, millions of Indians working and residing abroad would have got their voting right. Now the new government has to come and start the procedures again,” Rafeek added.
Since 2003, the Philippine government has been providing voting rights for their citizens working and residing abroad by setting up centres with the help of their election commission, foreign affairs, and mission houses.