In Gujarat local body polls this October, vote or elsehttps://indianexpress.com/article/explained/in-gujarat-local-polls-this-october-vote-or-else/

In Gujarat local body polls this October, vote or else

Voting is now compulsory in Gujarat. What does it mean? What if you disobey?

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A voter is carried to the booth during the last elections to Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation. The elderly and disabled are exempt from mandatory voting.(Source: Express Archive)

The Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2009, was notified last month, six years after it was tabled by the government of then Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Voting is now compulsory in Gujarat. What does it mean? What if you disobey? HIRAL DAVE explains.

When does compulsory voting come into effect?
This October, during the elections to 300-odd local bodies, including municipal corporations, municipalities and panchayats.

Why has the law been enacted?
To ensure greater participation in the electoral process. Local body elections have rarely seen the turnout cross 60 per cent.

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What is the punishment for not voting?
If you are a registered voter, do not feature in the “exempted” list, and fail to vote, you will be liable to be fined Rs 100.

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Who are exempt from compulsory voting?
10 categories of voters. (1) Those who are physical incapable due to illness; (2) those in hospital for medical treatment; (3) those with 75% or greater physical disability; (4) those who are taking an entrance or employment examination on voting day; (5) those who have a job interview; (6) persons aged 75 or above; (7) those attending social events like a wedding or funeral, or who are faced with a medical emergency in the immediate family; (8) those who are out of the state or country on voting day; (9) those who have migrated six months before polling day; and (10) employees of the central or state government, or of a board, corporation or company owned by the state government, or of the private sector who have been transferred prior to the election date.

What proofs are needed to claim exemption?
Hospital invoices, doctor’s certificate, travel tickets, photographs of social events, etc. The election officer can cross-check details and dates of weddings, funerals, etc. ‘Immediate family’ includes parents, grandparents, brother, sister, father-in-law, mother-in-law, husband, wife, son, daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren.

Who will be considered a ‘defaulter’?
A voter who does not vote will receive a notice from the election officer, and will have to furnish a reply within a month, giving reasons, along with proof, if any, of the specified exemptions. If the election officer is not satisfied with the reasons, the voter can be declared a defaulter. In case no reply is received within a month, the voter will be considered a defaulter, and will have to pay the fine within 15 days.

How will action against defaulters proceed?
The State Election Commission will set up multi-layered teams to identify defaulters, issue notices and hold hearings. Declared defaulters will have to pay a fine of Rs 100 in cash to the election officer within 15 days of receiving the order. The process will start with shortlisting of absentees by the local election officer, followed by issuance of notices, a follow-up and scrutiny of replies. A defaulter aggrieved by the order of the election officer can appeal within a month to a designated appellate officer.

Is there a problem with this process?
Extra hands will be needed to monitor voters, and implementing the law will result inevitably in a lot of paperwork. The government might well end up spending more on the process of collecting fines than the recovery itself.

What if an elected representative fails to vote?
An elected councillor or officebearer at a municipal corporation, district panchayat, taluka or nagarpalika will stand disqualified from the post, if he or she fails to vote.

What else do the amendments in the law deal with?
A major part of the rules stresses on the NOTA (None Of The Above) option, thus giving the voter the freedom to reject. The amended Act also has statutory provisions for 50 per cent reservation for women in municipal corporations, municipalities, and district and taluka panchayats.