The Supreme Court on Monday said that it cannot order legislature to make or amend a law within a particular time frame and granted eight weeks time to the Centre to effect changes in statutes for extending voting rights to NRIs through postal ballots.
However, the Election Commission, which found it feasible to give voting rights to NRIs, did not favour extending same benefit to migrants in the country.
“Scheme of the Representation of People Act is that a person can be enrolled only at the place where he is ordinarily resident, the question of any person migrating to a different place from his native place, enrolling himself in the electoral roll of his native place does not arise,” the poll panel said in an affidavit.
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During hearing on Monday, Additional Solicitor General P L Narasimha, appearing for the Centre, sought some more time for making changes in the statue for extending voting rights to Non Resident Indians (NRIs), saying that certain amendments are required to be carried out and the Law Ministry is working on them after considering the recommendations of the poll panel on the issue.
“We believe in the statement of the Additional Solicitor General…We cannot ask the legislature to finish it in a time frame,” a bench comprising Chief Justice H L Dattu and Justice Arun Mishra said, adding, “In case of difficulty, you (Centre) can come back to us”.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for one of the petitioners, sought early amendment in the law and said that in Kerala, 70 per cent persons are NRIs and they be given this right as they contribute so much to the country.
The court is hearing a batch of petitions filed by Nagender Chindam, who is the Chairman of London-based Pravasi Bharat organization and other NRIs including Shamsheer VP on the issue.
The PILs have said that 114 countries have adopted external voting and among them are 20 Asian countries. It said the external voting could be held by setting up polling booths at diplomatic missions, or by postal, proxy or electronic voting.
Earlier, the Centre had told the apex court that the EC’s recommendation to extend voting rights to NRIs through postal ballots have been accepted in letter and spirit and now the law has to be changed accordingly.
Earlier, the court had sought the poll panel’s response on a similar plea seeking voting rights of migrants who have left their constituencies for jobs.
The poll panel, in its recent affidavit, opposed it and said that persons, migrating from their native places, cease to be residents of that place and they cannot cast vote in elections in that constituency.
A person would not become a voter of his native place just because of owning a house there and migrants must register themselves at the place where they reside, it said.
“Such person has to get himself enrolled in the electoral roll of the new place where he is ordinarily resident and he can then vote in such new place,” it said.
“A person shall not be deemed to be ordinarily resident in a constituency on the ground only that he owns or is in possession of a dwelling house therein. The qualification for being resident at a given place is not fulfilled merely because a person owns a house at that place,” the affidavit said.
On November 14 last year, the court had asked the Centre to make its stand clear on the EC’s proposal for allowing NRIs to cast their votes through proxy voting and e-ballots in polls in India.
The apex court had granted time to the government to respond to the proposal prepared by a 12-member committee led by Vinod Zutshi, Deputy Election Commissioner, for ‘Exploring Feasibility of Alternative Options for Voting by Overseas Electors’.
In the report, the committee has said it 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.
The report further said the process can be scaled up for Parliamentary elections, if found feasible, practicable and meeting the objectives of free and fair polls.
The committee comprising officials from the EC, Law Ministry and MEA had gathered opinion from all sections before submitting a report to the apex court.
The poll panel had contended that the move to allow NRIs to use proxy voting on the lines of defence personnel and e-ballot facility will require changes in the law and a legislative framework.