In a blow to the Gujarat government, the High Court on Friday stayed a legislation that made voting compulsory in the local body elections. The court also issued notice to the government and the State Election Commission. The state government had recently proposed a Rs 100 fine on those who violated the provision.
A division bench led by Acting Chief Justice Jayant Patel stayed the law, observing that the “right to vote” itself provides the right to refrain from voting. The court’s order came on a petition moved Wednesday by advocate K R Koshti, who highlighted it was well settled that “voting is the right of a citizen”.
“There is nothing in the Constitution or any law, much less the Representation of the People Act, 1950, which imposes duty on citizen either to register himself as a voter or a duty to vote or a duty not to vote. Because, qualification of a voter provided under the provisions of Section 8 of the Bombay Provincial Municipal Corporation Act, 1949 is that the list of voter shall be the same as the electoral roll of the Gujarat Legislative Assembly prepared and revised in accordance with the provisions of the Representation of People Act, 1950,” the petition stated.
The petitioner argued that there were similar provisions in the Gujarat Municipalities Act and the Gujarat Panchayat Act. Therefore, voting can’t be held as a compulsion by any act or the constitution, Koshti said.
The next hearing is on September 24.
In July, Gujarat became the first state to have a provision for compulsory voting in the local body elections after the state government issued a notification in this regard.
According to the draft rules regarding punitive measures under the Gujarat Local Authorities Act (Amendment), 2009, an eligible voter violating the provision of mandatory voting faced a Rs 100 fine. The draft rules also mentioned 11 conditional relaxations for the elderly, students, those suffering from illness, mourning a death or attending a wedding on the day.
In December 2009, the bill was passed in Assembly, but it was returned by the then Governor Kamla Beniwal in April 2010. November 9, 2014, Governor O P Kohli gave his assent to which paved the way for introduction of compulsory voting in the state.