Gujarat Assembly on Saturday passed a landmark bill which makes,for the first time in the country,voting mandatory in local body polls.
The Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Bill,2009,which also seeks to raise the reservation of seats for women in local self governance bodies from 33 to 50 per cent,was passed by voice vote.
The opposition,led by Congress,opposed the mandatory voting provision,terming it in contradiction with the constitutional provisions but supported raising of seats for women in the local bodies from 33 per cent to 50 per cent.
The opposition had demanded separate bills for 50 per cent reservation for women and for mandatory voting in local self governance bodies.
Under the bill,if a voter fails to vote for the reasons other than prescribed in the rules,he may be declared a “defaulter voter” and would face consequences for which rules will be framed and placed before the Assembly for its approval later.
“It is observed that due to low turnout of voters to discharge their duty by exercising their right to vote,the true spirit of the will of the people is not reflected in the electoral mandate,” said the statement of objects and reasons of the bill.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi later told reporters that this is an attempt to strengthen India’s democracy.
“Everybody will benefit by compulsory voting be it a ruling party or the opposition,” he said.
While introducing the bill,Nitin Patel described the bill as a historical step taken by the government to strengthen the democratic process by achieving cent per cent voting in the local bodies’ elections.
According to him,the proposed provision once approved,will put Gujarat in the league of a number of developed nations where voting in the local bodies’ polls is mandatory.
However,Leader of Opposition Shaktisinh Gohil described it as a “populist measure” by the State government which is absolutely in contradiction with the constitutional provisions.
He added the amendment bill should be split into two and a separate bill for reservation for women should be introduced first.
“My party will support the government and would vote in favour of the bill for enhancing reservation for women from 33 per cent to 50 per cent as done by the Central Government,” Gohil said,adding,”however,Congress party cannot support the provision of mandatory voting.”
“The provision of mandatory voting is in contravention of the constitutional provisions and if the bill does not get statutory approval,there would not be 50 per cent reservation for women in the state because the government has clubbed it with contentious provision of mandatory voting,” Gohil added.
According to him,a ‘private member bill’ for mandatory voting in the national polls was introduced in the Lok Sabha and subsequently it was withdrawn because it was not feasible.
“Making voting mandatory will cause inconvenience to poor people. Thousands of tribals migrate in other regions for work so they will have to come to their native place for voting otherwise they will be barred from getting benefits of the welfare programmes and schemes,” state Congress unit president and Dabhoi MLA Siddharth Patel said.
“You cannot strengthen democratic process by putting a compulsion on the people to vote,” he added. According to him,the Constitution of the country has given a right to vote to all citizens of the country.
“What is the logic behind giving a right to vote for no candidate in the elections? And what if majority of voters in a particular ward vote to “none of the candidates in the fray? Who will be declared winner in such a scenario?” Patel asked,saying there are many such issues which need to be addressed first before making it mandatory.
It may be noted that Gujarat will witness elections of six municipal corporations in Ahmedabad,Vadodara,Surat,Rajkot,Jamnagar,Bhavnagar,over 20 district panchayats,municipalities and block elections in 2010.
The proposed bill,however,provides freedom to voters to cast their vote in favour of “none of the candidates contesting elections,” which is called negative voting.
The government official added that the rules regarding negative voting will also be framed at a later stage.