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Franchise rights of the NRIs

comment Updated: Apr 09, 2014 23:36 IST

That more than 10 million Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) will not be taking part in the ongoing general elections is a shortcoming of an otherwise efficient electoral system.

It is in this vein that the Supreme Court on Monday asked the Election Commission (EC) to explore options to facilitate NRIs to vote over the Internet.

The court was hearing a petition by a UAE-based NRI doctor who challenged the clause in the Representation of the People Act (RPA) that insists that NRIs must be physically present in their constituency to cast their vote.

Rules that deny or make it difficult for a group of citizens, NRIs here, to vote must change so that we are a representative democracy in letter and spirit.

The importance of NRI voters becomes evident in the fact that in 2009 there were more than 200 constituencies in which the winning margin was only around 43,000. Also, the remittances by Indians overseas were $67 billion in 2012-13, or about 4% of GDP, and it is alarming that their opinion in choosing the next government does not count. At present, the RPA must be amended if postal ballots are to be sent to NRIs.

The elections in the United States are often criticised for the complex voting arithmetic it uses to choose the winning candidate.

However cumbersome the voting system is, the US has ensured that every citizen, irrespective of where he or she resides in the world, is given a chance to exercise his or her suffrage.

US citizens living outside the country and who have informed their local election office receive blank ballots electronically — depending on the state it could be a ballot, an email, a fax or an Internet form.

It has to be filled and sent back to the election office. More than 100 other countries follow similar practices. Non-resident citizens of Japan, Brazil, France and 17 European Union states are allowed to vote at embassies and consulates around the world.

The apex court has asked the EC to file a reply by Friday and it is hoped that the franchise rights of the NRIs will not go in vain. And if it means that the laws must be amended, the next government should not hesitate in doing so.