VOTE YOU MUST Says the Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Act, 2009, which was recently cleared by Governor O P Kohli, and published in the official gazette of the Gujarat government on Nov 5. The law makes it compulsory for voters in Gujarat to vote in elections to local self government bodies.
THE LAW has been in the works for five years. The government of then Chief Minister Narendra Modi drafted it, and it was passed by the assembly in 2011. But the then Governor Kamla Beniwal refused assent to it, blocking the Bill from becoming law.
IT CONTAINS statutory provisions for both compulsory voting and 50 per cent reservation for women in elections to institutions of local self-government. One of the objections Governor Beniwal had had was to the clubbing of these two issues in one Bill.
IN ENACTING the law, government has amended three older Acts. Compulsory voting in municipal corporation, municipality and panchayat polls has been included under ‘Obligation to Vote’, while inserting sub-sections to relevant sections of the three earlier Acts.
HOWEVER, the law will come into effect only after the state government has issued separate notifications related to provisions such as punishment for the voter who defaults.
And If You Don’t
THE ACT has a procedure to identify a “defaulter voter”: “The election officer… may declare the voter to be the defaulter voter who failed to vote… after giving him a notice in the form prescribed by rules”. The voter will have a month to reply, giving valid and sufficient reasons for not voting, along with supporting documents like a medical certificate or a copy of passport. If the reply is late, or the reasons not satisfactory, the election officer will declare the voter a “defaulter”.
PUNISHMENT for the defaulter will be decided by the government: “The state government shall be competent to prescribe by rules to be laid before the State Legislature, the disadvantages or consequences to be suffered by a defaulter voter”. An aggrieved voter can appeal to an Officer designated by the State Election Commission. This Appellate Officer’s order will be final.
VALID GROUNDS for not voting include physical incapability due to illness or other bodily infirmity; being absent from Gujarat or India on the date of election; other grounds prescribed by the state government in consultation with the State Election Commission.
Of likely punishment was given in 2010 by an official who helped draft the Bill: “We are mulling punitive action like withdrawing BPL cards, and discontinuing government subsidy on kerosene and cooking gas.”