New Delhi: A bill to extend the facility of ‘proxy voting’ to overseas Indians, on the lines of service voters, was passed by the Lok Sabha today. The bill now needs to be passed in the Rajya Sabha to be constituted in a law. This will allow non-residents Indian to appoint a proxy voter to cast their votes.
Nearly 13 million Indians staying abroad can now participate in the election process which will further strengthen the Indian democracy. Hence passing of this bill in the Lok Sabha is of great significance.
Thursday night the ‘Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill 2017’ was moved for consideration which was passed by a voice vote. This will allow NRI to cast their votes without having to travel to India. The NRIs will have to nominate a person in India to cast their vote.
The proxy voter will cast the vote on behalf of the NRI as suggested by him. Till now proxy voting was allowed only for soldiers serving the armed forces and government officials. The demand to provide voting rights to NRI has been persistent for a long time now.
During the 2014 Lok Sabha election, similar demand was raised as it is very expensive for the NRI to travel to India just to cast their votes. Only 10 to 12 thousand NRIs visited India during the elections to cast their votes as per data of the Election Commission.
In 2015 the present government considered the proposal of allowing proxy voting for the NRIs. Initially provision of postal ballot was thought of, however anticipating the challenges in its implementation the idea was scrapped.
Union Law Ministry decided to amend the ‘Representation of the People Bill 1951’ and got it approved by parliamentary committee in August 2017 and was presented in winter session of the Parliament to be passed. The bill to be constituted into a law to grant proxy voting rights now needs to be passed by the Rajya Sabha.
Previously, few political parties refused to grant proxy voting rights to the NRIs mainly questioning the credibility of the proxy voter to cast the vote according to NRI voter’s choice. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad during the debate on the bill rebutted the argument. He further suggested the House to trust the NRIs on their nomination of the proxy and that the law would have provisions to avert such misuse.
There has been another important amendment in the existing law which previously only allowed the army men’s and government official’s wives to be the service voter but a woman army officer’s husband was not entitled. The amendment bill proposes the term “wife” to be replaced by “Spouse” making the provision gender neutral to overcome the limitation of the old bill.