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Mulling remote vote facility for NRIs, govt. tells SC

  • Published
    2nd Nov, 2022
Context

In the context of a petition in SC, the union government has replied suggesting that it is considering ways to facilitate non-resident Indians (NRI) and migrant laborers to cast their votes ‘remotely’.

Who qualifies as an overseas elector/ NRI voter?

  • A citizen of India, absent from the country owing to employment, education, etc., has not acquired citizenship of any other country and is otherwise eligible to be registered as a voter in the address mentioned in its passport qualifies as an overseas elector/ NRI voter.
  • According to the provisions of Section 20A of the Representation of People Act, 1950, an NRI settled in a foreign land can become an elector in the electoral roll in India.

Non-Resident Indian:

  • NRI means a person resident outside India who is a citizen of India or is a person of Indian origin.
  • An Indian citizen residing outside India for a combined total of at least 183 days in a financial year is considered to be an NRI.
  • NRIs enjoy voting rights and are required to pay and file the income tax return on their Indian income like resident Indians.
  • However, in case an NRI wishes to take up foreign citizenship, he/she will have to give up Indian citizenship as the Indian constitution does not allow dual citizenship.

Voting Process for Overseas Voters in Indian elections:

  • Voting rights for NRIs were introduced only in 2011, through an amendment to the Representation of the People Act 1950.
  • It is after the amendment that, the eligible NRIs who had stayed abroad beyond six months were allowed to vote, but only in person at the polling station where they have been enrolled as an overseas elector.
  • Before 2010, an Indian citizen who is an eligible voter and was residing abroad for more than six months, would not have been able to vote in elections.
  • This was because the NRI’s name was deleted from electoral rolls if he or she stayed outside the country for more than six months at a stretch.
  • An NRI can vote in the constituency in his/her place of residence, as mentioned in the passport, is located.
  • He/she can only vote in person and will have to produce her passport in original at the polling station for establishing identity.

Performance of existing facility:

  • Low Proportion of Eligible Overseas: From merely 11,846 overseas voters who registered in 2014, the number went up to close to a lakh in 2019. However, only a low proportion of such voters turned up to vote.
  • Provision to Visit the Polling Booth Discouraged Eligible Voters: The provision of having to visit the polling booth in person has discouraged eligible voters from exercising their mandate.

Recent steps were taken by Government:

  • In the Parliament in 2017, the government proposed to remove the restriction imposed by Section 20A of the Representation of the People Act.
  • The Bill was later passed in 2018 but lapsed with the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha.
  • The Bill provided for overseas voters to be able to appoint a proxy to cast their votes on their behalf, subject to conditions laid down in the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961.
  • 20A of the Representation of the People Act required them to be physically present to vote in their constituencies.
  • The ECI then approached the government to permit NRIs to vote via postal ballots.

Voting rights of expatriates of other countries:

  • A British citizen living abroad can register as an overseas voter for up to 15 years after leaving the UK, as long as he is a British or Irish citizen and was a registered voter in the UK for the last 15 years.
  • American expatriates enjoy voting rights in the US irrespective of how long they have been living abroad. They can vote for federal office candidates in the primary and general elections.

 

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