Emphasising that there is a dire need of negative voting in Indias electoral system to ensure that a candidate wins only on the basis of positive votes, the Supreme Court on Friday ordered the introduction of a None of the Above (NOTA) button in voting machines to empower voters to reject all candidates.
In a landmark judgment that aimed at ensuring wider voter participation and to compel political parties to field sound candidates with integrity,the court directed the Election Commission to provide an option for negative voting in EVMs and ballot papers so that voters are able to exercise their right not to vote while maintaining their right of secrecy.
It asked the EC to implement it at once or in a phased manner,with the assistance of the central government. Until now,a voter who did not want to choose any candidate could only register his or her decision in a register outside the polling booth and such details were not kept secret.
A bench led by Chief Justice P Sathasivam threw out the Centres objection which said the Representation of the People Act did not conceive of a negative vote and that negative voting would have no legal consequences since the candidate getting the highest number of votes would still be declared elected under existing election laws.
Not allowing a person to cast vote negatively defeats the very freedom of expression and the right ensured in Article 21,i.e. the right to liberty…a provision of negative voting would be in the interest of promoting democracy as it would send clear signals to political parties and their candidates as to what the electorate think about them. The mechanism of negative voting,thus,serves a very fundamental and essential part of a vibrant democracy, it said.
The bench,which also included Justices Ranjana Desai and Ranjan Gogoi,asserted that for democracy to survive,it was essential that the best available men should be chosen as peoples representatives for proper governance of the country.
This can be best achieved through men of high moral and ethical values,who win the elections on a positive vote. When the political parties will realize that a large number of people are expressing their disapproval with the candidates being put up by them,gradually there will be a systemic change and the political parties will be forced to accept the will of the people and field candidates who are known for their integrity, it said.
Providing the NOTA button in EVMs,the court said,will not only provide effective political participation but will also foster the purity of the electoral process while fulfilling another objective of wide participation.
Advocate Sanjay Parikh,who appeared with leading advocate Rajinder Sachhar for the petitioner,NGO PUCL,agreed that under present rules,even if the majority votes for NOTA,the candidate getting the second highest number of votes will be held elected.
However,it is just the first step. If the majority pushed the NOTA button,the person getting lesser votes cannot certainly express the will of the people and we therefore plan to move the court again in such a scenario, Parikh told The Indian Express.
The EC had supported the PIL and had referred to its 2001 letter to the law ministry which had said that a panel should be provided in EVMs for NOTA so that an elector may indicate that he did not wish to vote for any candidate. The ministry never responded to this proposal. Similarly,the court also took note of the Law Commissions 170th report recommending for implementation of the concept of negative vote.
Fridays judgement is the latest in a spate of verdicts aimed at electoral reforms and cleaning up politics. A bench led by the CJI had recently empowered the ECs returning officers to reject nomination papers of candidates who fail to furnish details relating to their assets and criminal background.
Another bench led by Justice Sathasivam had in July asked Parliament to frame a new law to regulate political parties in the country,as it it held that although freebies promised by parties in election manifestos vitiated the electoral process,the law as it stands today cannot indict them for corrupt practices.
The apex court has also restrained people in custody from contesting elections,besides ruling that MPs and MLAs will be disqualified immediately on being held guilty by a criminal court.