NRI Voting Rights in India

NRI Voting Rights in India

There are about 25 million NRIs who are staying outside India, away from their homelands. Many of them are living in countries where the rights of the immigrant workers are vastly limited. Many of them work in extremely harsh conditions just to make some more money to make a better future for their family. It should ideally be the responsibility of the Indian Government to take enough care of these citizens who are living impoverished lives in foreign lands. It is the responsibility of the Indian Constitution to give them their rights so that their voices could be heard, so that they can choose a right Government back in their own country who can stand for them in the time of need in the foreign lands.  Furthermore, many of them have their families living here. They, like any other Indian citizen, would like their children growing up under good education systems, their parents to be treated in good medical institutions. So giving them their right to choose the correct leader is recognised by Constitution.

Keeping this in mind the Indian Parliament approved the voting rights for the Non-Resident Indians in the Elections, with the Lok Sabha adopting the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2010. However, according to the Bill, the person will be able to exercise the franchise only if he or she is physically present in their constituency on the polling day. NRIs find this law pretty weird because it is practically impossible for everyone to travel to India during the same period. So virtually this law negates the voting rights of the NRIs in the true sense. Lawmakers should take a more practical approach towards this problem. About 114 countries in the world have adopted the external voting system. And out of them about 20 are Asian countries. Citizens of these countries can vote and choose their leaders from the foreign land. External voting could be set up by setting up polling booths in the diplomatic missions and Consulates or though Internet. With modern technology and communication systems, setting up such voting channels would be a trivial job, given the fact that India being one of the largest technology service providers across the globe. This will immensely benefit millions of eligible voters living across the world.

Recently, a PIL was filed by Dr. V.P. Shamsher, an NRI and Doctor by profession, in the Supreme Court of India regarding the voting rights and the possibilities of NRIs voting from the foreign country. He filed the PIL against Section 20 (a) of the Representation of the people (Amendment) Act of 2010. The outcome has been bit disappointing for the NRIs specially who had registered to vote. When the PIL was filed it seemed as a silver lining, it looked as if the NRIs, at least the ones registered in their own constituencies, can cast their vote from their foreign locations. But now with Supreme Court ruling out this possibility for this year’s election, it came as a major setback for the NRI voters. If this system were made in place this year, then it would have been remarkable year for India. This is also the first time that the NRIs have got the right to vote. If this external voting right were also introduced then it would have been a major advancement in the electoral process in India.

Initially the Supreme Court had asked the Election Commission to look into this matter and weigh the various possibilities, through which the NRIs can vote from their foreign locations. But early this month the Supreme Court said that as the election process has already started this year and voting already completed in few constituencies, it will not be practically possible to grant rights to the others. EC argued that it faced logistic and statutory problems in extending the voting rights to the NRIs. EC said that it would be forming a committee who will look into the matter and deliver the various options in the next hearing, which is stated to be in August end.

Hopefully, the right verdict will come out, the will to do the right things will overcome all odds and our Constitution will become bold enough to finally give the NRIs their right. Hopefully, a construction worker toiling in the desert sand will have his voice heard finally.

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