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Supreme Court issues notice on plea seeking voting rights for NRIs

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued notice on a petition seeking directions for the Central government to permit citizens residing outside India, to exercise their franchise under Section 20A of the Representation of the People Act, 1950, from their place of residence or employment.

A Bench comprising Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, Justice J.K. Maheshwari and Justice Hima Kohli issued notice on the petition filed by the Kerala Pravasi Association, an organisation working to provide justice and welfare to the expatriates.

The petition sought alternative options/ external modes to be provided to the citizens residing outside India for exercising their right to vote, without insisting on their physical presence in their respective polling stations in India on the day of polling.

As per the plea, while Section 20A of the 1950 Act provides special provisions for citizens of India residing outside the country for exercising their franchise, the purpose and object of the legislation stands defeated as there is no corresponding provisions in the Rules under the 1950 Act to allow citizens to vote without being physically present in the polling stations of their respective constituencies in India.

The petition said this created discrimination between the overseas electors, who have the ability to be physically present in the constituency for the election and those, who are unable to leave their employment, education etc to be in their constituency at the relevant time.

The provisions of Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 2010 (2010 Act) mandates that Non-Residents of India (NRIs) are to be physically present in their constituencies to exercise their right to cast vote in elections is violative of the Fundamental Rights enshrined under Article 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India, it added.

The petition contended that the key objectives of the 1950 Act, as per the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the 2010 Act, were to boost the involvement of citizens living abroad and recognise their right to vote as their legitimate right.

However, it said the Rules under the Act failed in ensuring the involvement of citizens living abroad and denied them the Right to effectively exercise their franchise.

The plea alleged that Section 20A of the 1950 Act created a deep divide among the NRIs based on the financial conditions and economic strata as only those financially stable, were able to travel and cast their vote physically.

It said periodical, free and fair elections were the substratum of democracy.

Seeking alternative methods to cast votes, the petition contended that alternative methods of casting one’s vote would ensure maximum participation. It noted that the right to vote electronically has been recognised and approved by Parliament as a means to represent one’s approval/ rejection; and ensure wider participation of stakeholders in the decision-making process.

It also mentioned the amendments to Section 108 of the Companies (Management and Administration) Rule, 2014, which provide shareholders with an opportunity to exercise their right to vote by the electronic means on resolutions placed before the general body meeting of a company without being present physically.

The petition added that the principle of universal suffrage could only be fully achieved, if citizens living abroad were entitled to vote in the elections of their home country.

Case title: Kerala Pravasi Association And Anr

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