Enabling NRIs, migrants to vote: SC disposes of plea as AG says efforts on to find solution

The Supreme Court on Tuesday disposed of a petition seeking directions to enable non-resident Indians, migrant labourers and others who may not be physically present in their constituencies to cast vote, with the Attorney General stating that the matter is still engaging the attention of the authorities and functionaries concerned, and a solution will be found to it.

A bench of Chief Justice of India U U Lalit and Justice Bela M Trivedi recorded the assurance given by Attorney General R Venkataramani and said it didn’t wish to keep the 2013 petition pending any longer in view of this.

The court noted in its order that after it had issued notice in February 2013, the Election Commission had constituted a committee “to look into the matter with regard to ways and means to facilitate voting for non-resident Indians and migrant workers”.

“The committee thereafter submitted its report…The central government had accepted the recommendations made by the Election Commission and then introduced Bill in 2018 in Lok Sabha to amend Section 60 of Representation of People Act, 1951. The intended amendment was to enable the overseas electors to appoint a proxy to cast vote on behalf of such electors. The Bill was passed in Lok Sabha. However, the same was not introduced in Rajya Sabha and as a result, the Bill itself lapsed. Thereafter, there hasn’t been any development on the front,” it said.

The order added that “however, as Attorney General R Venkaratamani submits, the matter is still engaging the attention of the concerned authorities and functionaries, and a solution will be found which will not only enable concerned persons living overseas or migrant labourers to cast their vote, but would also ensure the integrity and confidentiality of the entire electoral process”.

Disposing of the plea, the court pointed out that it was filed in 2013 “at a stage when nothing was being done to enable such persons to cast their votes, but today the awareness has not only seeped in, but it went to extent of tabling a Bill before one of the Houses of the Parliament, which thought it fit to pass the Bill as well. The purpose with which the writ petition was filed having been served, we see no reason to entertain this petition any longer”.

It said the AG “has assured that every step shall be undertaken to see that persons living outside India and migrant labourers are still part of the entire electoral process and every facility shall be extended which will also ensure the confidentiality of the election”.

The petitioners urged the court to keep it pending and seek a status report from the government, but the bench did not agree and said these are policy issues on which the authorities concerned should take a call taking into account various factors, and the court cannot force their hands.

“The committee has already gone into these matters and perhaps they found there are some roadblocks or something. To what extent do we keep on giving these mandamus or directions? They have actually pursued it to the level where there had to be an amendment to the law. Through mandamus, can we achieve that?” the CJI asked the counsel for the petitioners.

The court said it was not questioning the right of the petitioners to have their name registered. “How you exercise that right is the question?”

“Suppose there is a constituency in south Kerala and the voter stays in Delhi, or Jammu and Kashmir, how does he cast his vote? Does he have to go all the way to the south Kerala constituency and cast his vote, or are there any other modalities…maybe in digital format, maybe through proxy, maybe through actual physical form but through the auspices of the governmental machinery, through the embassies, high commissions or even other parallel machinery?” it said.

The bench repeated that all these are questions which should be dealt with by the relevant authorities and it is not possible for it to be holding the petition any longer.

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