January 20, 2019 8:24:32 pm
The Law Ministry is looking at a small window for the passage of a key bill to allow proxy voting rights to overseas Indians and make electoral law gender neutral for service voters. The bill assumes importance as Lok Sabha elections are due in summer.
The Budget session of Parliament, the last session of the present government, will have 11 sittings between January 31 and February 13. The bill was passed by Lok Sabha in August 2018 and has been awaiting Rajya Sabha nod.
Asked whether the government will push for its passage in the brief Budget session, a senior law ministry official said, “All pending bills are important as it is the last session. In the Winter session, it was listed in the Rajya Sabha agenda every day.”
Rajya Sabha was repeatedly disrupted in the previous session due to Rafale and other issues. If the bill becomes a law, NRIs or Non-resident Indians eligible to vote in India will be allowed to appoint proxies who can vote on their behalf. These proxies will change for every election.
As of now, overseas Indians have to register as voter, come to India, go to their constituency with the original passport issued to them when they had gone abroad and cast their votes.
According to estimates of the Ministry of External Affairs, there are about 3.10 crore NRIs living in different countries across the world. An expert committee of Election Commission had said no to e-voting for NRIs but had approved proxy voting.
Another provision in the amendment bill relates to the spouses of service voters. As of now, an army man’s wife is entitled to be enrolled as a service voter, but a woman army officer’s husband is not, according to the provisions in the electoral law.
The bill proposes to replace the term ‘wife’ with ‘spouse’, thus making the provision gender neutral. Members of the armed forces, central armed police forces, personnel of state police forces posted outside their state and employees of the Centre posted outside India are eligible to be enrolled as service voters.
Even diplomats and other officials serving in embassies abroad come in this category. In fact, making election law gender neutral for service voters is one of the reforms being pushed by Election Commission.