Ahmedabad: Gujarat's controversial legislation making voting compulsory in civic body polls and imposing a fine for any violation was today stayed by the state High Court which observed that the ‘right to vote' itself provided right to refrain from voting.
A fine of Rs 100 is to be levied on voters if a registered voter failed to vote in the local body polls in the state without giving any valid reasons under rules notified by the state government early this month for implementation of the compulsory voting law. The polls are expected to be held in October.
The ‘right to vote' itself provides right to refrain from voting and it cannot be turned into ‘duty of voting', the Court observed while admitting a petition challenging the Gujarat Local Authorities (Amendment) Act 2009, which makes voting mandatory in local body polls in the state.
The High Court division bench of acting Chief Justice Jayant Patel and Justice N V Anjariya stayed implementation of compulsory voting while admitting the plea filed by lawyer K R Koshti against the Act.
A Bill making voting compulsory for all the citizens in civic bodies, mooted by then Chief Minister Narendra Modi, was passed by the state Assembly in 2009 and became a law when present Governor O P Kohli signed it. Petitioner's lawyer P S Champaneri submittedthat right to vote is an expression of a citizen and whether or not to vote includes the right to not vote.
The right to vote cannot be termed as the duty by the state and therefore the provision of compulsory voting Act is violative of fundamental rights given to any citizen under the Indian Constitution, Champanderi submitted.
He also argued that the state Legislatures does not have any legislative competence to enact a law regarding voting, as it comes under the purview of the Constitution and any such law can only be amended or enacted by Parliament. The petitioner demanded that the Gujarat government and the State Election Commission be restrained from implementing the provisions of the Gujarat Local Authorities (Amendment) Act, 2009.
The Gujarat Local Authorities (Amendment) Bill was first introduced in the state Assembly in December 2009 and passed by a majority vote when Modi was Chief Minister.
It was, however, returned by the then Governor Dr Kamla Beniwal in April 2010 with remarks that “forcing voter to vote is against the principles of an individual liberty.” Beniwal had returned the Bill to the government, with her comments, for reconsideration.
“The present Bill violates the freedom which a citizen is entitled to enjoy under Article 21 of the Constitution,” she had said in her letter asking the then state government to make amendments to the Bill.
However, ignoring her suggestions, the then state government had once again got the bill passed on December 28, 2011 by majority vote in the Gujarat Assembly which was sent to Beniwal for her assent.
In November 2014, after the change of government in Delhi, Gujarat Governor O P Kohli gave his approval. The local body polls in 253 municipalities, 208 taluka panchayats, 26 district panchayats and six municipal corporations are expected to be held in October this year.