The issue of voting rights to NRIs has been referred to an 11-member panel of ministers, which would examine its feasibility. The panel will also examine similar rights to migrant labour — a move opposed by the Election Commission.
The Law Ministry, which in August circulated a Cabinet note on bestowing voting rights on NRIs, has been directed by the Prime Minister’s Office to first refer the proposal to “an Inter-Ministerial Committee of Ministers”. The PMO also directed that the Inter-Ministerial Committee “examine the feasibility of extending the voting rights to migrant labourers/ workers within the country”.
Both groups are denied voting because the Representation of the People Act mandates that “a citizen, to avail voting rights, should be an ordinary resident in his constituency”.
A letter dated September 1 from the Law Ministry’s Legislative Department says that it has been directed to constitute the ministers’ committee with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley as its chairman and the Law Secretary as its member secretary. Nitin Gadkari, Sushma Swaraj, Piyush Goyal, Nirmala Sitharaman, Ravi Shankar Prasad would be among the members.
Soon after taking office in May 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had abolished the practice of creating Group of Ministers (GoMs) and Empowered GoMs, which had become a symbol of policy paralysis during the previous UPA government. Many such panels hardly ever met.
The Law Ministry’s Cabinet proposal had sought amendment in the laws to “amplify the existing modes of voting available to overseas electors and service votes” by permitting electronic and postal ballots. But it did not move a similar proposal for millions of domestic migrants based on EC’s admission that it was logistically incapable. An estimated 12-15 per cent of the 815 million voters fall in this category.
Sources said the PMO’s decision to link migrant labourers with NRIs was taken following widespread opposition in Rajya Sabha – where the NDA is in minority — over the government’s rush to include rich NRIs while neglecting the poor domestic migrants.