New Delhi: Days after extending more benefits to Persons of Indian Origin, the government is set to accept the recommendations of a committee which has favoured voting for NRIs through electronic means. The government has already firmed up its stand on the issue of NRI voting and will tell the Supreme Court this week that it accepts the recommendations of the committee, including e-ballot for NRIs.
The issue will come up before the apex court where government has to explain its position on the issue. A committee comprising officials from the EC, Law Ministry and the Ministry of External Affairs had taken the opinions from all sections before submitting a report to the apex court last year.
Any move to allow NRIs use proxy voting on the lines of defence personnel and e-ballot facility will require changes in the law.Under the proposal, NRIs will be sent ballot papers electronically and they will have to return it to poll authorities physically.
Chief Election Commissioner V S Sampath had said recently that the MEA was opposed to the idea of allowing NRIs to vote at embassies as it will be difficult to allow such an exercise because, in some countries, the NRI population could be equal to the local populace and it will be difficult to hold such an exercise at the embassy.
A senior government functionary told PTI that misuse of the process can be checked by devising safeguards once the facility is actually started.“The committee 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 and then be scaled up for parliamentary elections if found feasible, practicable and meeting the objectives of free and fair elections,” said the report given to the SC.
The 50-page report was prepared by a 12-member committee led by Vinod Zutshi, Deputy Election Commissioner, for ‘Exploring Feasibility of Alternative Options for Voting by Overseas Electors'.
The report is the result of a public interest litigation filed in the Supreme Court against the “inherent inequality” created by Section 20(A) of the Representation of the People (RP) Act which insists on the physical presence of an NRI in his local constituency at the time of voting.
According to EC website, after enrolment, an overseas elector will be able to cast his or her vote in an election in the constituency, in person, at the polling station provided for the part where he is registered as an overseas elector.
According to the provisions of the RP Act, a person who is a citizen of India and who has not acquired the citizenship of any other country and is otherwise eligible to be registered as a voter and who is absent from his place of ordinary residence in India owing to employment, education or otherwise is eligible to be registered as a voter in the constituency in which his place of residence in India, as mentioned in his passport, is located.
Taking the Ordinance route, government had recently promulgated an ordinance that seeks to merge Person of Indian Origin (PIO) and Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) schemes, by which PIOs will also get life-long Indian visa. The amendments through the ordinance to the Citizenship Act will benefit PIOs and will give them benefits like life-long visa and exemption from appearing before the local police station on every visit.
The ordinance fulfills Prime Minister Narendra Modi's assurance in New York to Indian diaspora where he had promised a merger of the two schemes. He had also announced grant of lifetime visa to PIOs.
The decision to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 was taken after large number of complaints were received from PIOs, who often complained of visits to local police stations and stringent visa norms that debarred them from buying property in India, in comparison to those holding Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) card.
PIO cardholders are now eligible for only 15-year visas in comparison to lifelong visas given to those having OCI cards.