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SC tells govt to implement steps for NRIs to cast e-votes

The Supreme Court (SC) on Monday asked the government to “do at the earliest” the necessary amendments in the law to enable non-resident Indians (NRIs) to cast postal and e-ballots in polls in India.

A bench headed by Chief Justice H L Dattu said extending voting rights to NRIs was necessary as the Centre had agreed in “letter and spirit” on the Election Commission (EC) recommendations which required follow-up action to implement.

“Since the views and recommendations 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 and posted the matter after eight weeks, asking the Centre to inform it about “further steps taken to implement the suggestions.”

Taking a cue from the positive outcome of NRI voting rights, another application was moved, seeking identical rights for migrant people and workers within the country, on which the bench sought the EC’s view.

The Centre’s stand on the NRI issue was clarified by Additional Solicitor General P L Narasimha, who said the matter was under consideration of the law ministry, as certain amendments were required to be carried out for making it a reality.

The bench said since the Centre had taken a stand on the issue, there was no need for it to go into the details of the technicalities involved and wanted to know “what was it doing after agreeing with the suggestions of the EC”.

The SC on November 14 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 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 had then 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.

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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