New Delhi: The government today agreed to convene an all-party meeting to discuss its proposal to give NRIs the right to exercise their franchise by e-postal ballots or through proxy voting.
Law Minister D V Sadananda Gowda accepted the demand of opposition parties in the Rajya Sabha that their views should be taken into consideration while enacting a legislation to grant voting rights to NRIs and domestic migrant labour.
Replying to a calling attention motion moved by Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Law Minister made it clear that the government was acting on the Election Commission report regarding voting rights of over one crore NRIs and not as directed by the Supreme Court.
During the debate, Opposition members charged the government with taking up the matter against the backdrop of the Supreme Court's directions, with Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad saying they were not opposed to voting rights for NRIs but the way the Government has moved the proposal without discussing it with the political parties.
The Minister said the report had recommended the options of the e-postal ballot system and proxy voting and the government had submitted before the Supreme Court accepting the recommendations.
To ensure that secrecy and methodology is maintained, Gowda said "e-postal and postal ballot voting methodologies are being worked out for the voting rights of the NRIs".
However, he agreed for an all-party meeting as demanded by several opposition parties like AIADMK, DMK, BJD, CPI, SP and JD-U.
On the crucial issue of voting rights for domestic migrant labours, he said the Election Commission would convene a meeting of the political parties to gather their views on this issue also.
"I (will) request Election Commision to hold all party meeting to get their feedback," he said while adding that it was necessary for legislation on voting rights for migrant voters travelling across the country in search of work.
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said there was a broad consensus at an all-party meeting called by Election Commission on the issue of voting rights for NRIs and the government would work in this direction.
Initiating the debate after calling the attention of the Law Minister, Azad said they were not opposed to voting rights for NRIs through e-postal ballots or by proxy voting, but the way the Government has moved the proposal without holding discussion with the political parties.
"Today government has said goodbye to all consultation process. Parliament is being made aware of developments from newspaper reports. It has become the habit of the government to bypass the Parliament and the standing committees. When we object, we are being criticised," he said.
He voiced concern over casting of votes through e-postal ballots, saying they are prone to hacking and cited the recent example of US President Barack Obama's e-mail account being hacked.
Azad also accused the government of adopting a discriminatory apprach in granting voting rights to NRIs through e-postal ballots but ignoring the rights of migrant workers.
D Raja (CPI) described as "risky" the proposal to vote through e-postal ballots and through proxy voting. Demanding an all-party meeting to discuss the proposal, he sought to know whether arrangements would be made in emabssies abroad for NRIs to cast their votes.
Bhupinder Singh (BJD) sought to know how the e-evoting mechanism would ensure the person casting his vote is a genuine voter. Referring to the problems faced by migrant labour in casting their votes, he said the government has completely ignored their rights who constitute 20-25 per cent of the population.
Ram Gopal Yadav (SP) rejected the government proposal and charged it of doing favours to the NRI community.
He said proxy voting is prone to "fraud and cheating" Referring to the rules of voting, he demanded to know if elections observers and presiding officers would be engaged abroad for NRIs to cast their votes.
Sharad Yadav (JD-U) also sought an all-party meeting to discuss the issue threadbare. A Navaneethakrishnan (AIADMK), Tiruchi Siva (DMK) and K N Balagopal (CPI-M) also demanded the all-party meeting on the matter.