The Gujarat high court on Friday stayed the implementation of a law that makes voting compulsory in the civic body elections in the state.
The 'right to vote' itself provides right to refrain from voting and it cannot be turned into 'duty of voting', the high court said while acting on a petition challenging the Gujarat Local Authorities (Amendment) Act 2009, which makes voting mandatory in local body polls in the state.
The division bench of acting Chief Justice Jayant Patel and Justice NV Anjariya stayed implementation of compulsory voting, admitting the plea filed by lawyer KR Koshti against the Act.
A bill making voting compulsory for all the citizens in civic bodies, mooted by then chief minister Narendra Modi, was passed by the state Assembly in 2009 and became a law when governor OP Kohli signed it.
Earlier this month, the government had notified the law saying those who fail to vote will have to pay a fine of Rs 100.
Petitioner's lawyer PS Champaneri submitted before the HC earlier on Friday that right to vote is an expression of a citizen.
The right to vote cannot be termed as the duty by the state and therefore, the provision of compulsory voting Act is violative of fundamental rights given to any citizen under the Indian Constitution, Champanderi submitted.
He also argued that the state legislature does not have any legislative competence to enact a law regarding voting, as it comes under the purview of the Constitution and any such law can only be amended or enacted by Parliament.
The petitioner demanded in the plea to restrain the Gujarat government and the state election commission to implement the provisions of the Gujarat Local Authorities (Amendment) Act, 2009.
The Gujarat Local Authorities (Amendment) Bill was first introduced in the state Assembly in December 2009 and passed by a majority vote when Modi was the chief minister.
It was, however, returned by the then governor Dr Kamla Beniwal in April 2010 with remarks that "forcing voter to vote is against the principles of an individual liberty."
Beniwal had returned the bill to the government, with her comments, for reconsideration.
"The present Bill violates the freedom which a citizen is entitled to enjoy under Article 21 of the Constitution," she had said in her letter asking the then state government to make amendments to the Bill.
However, ignoring her suggestions, the then state government had once again passed the Bill on December 28, 2011 by majority vote in the Gujarat Assembly which was sent to Beniwal to get the sanction.
In November 2014, after the change of government in Delhi, Gujarat governor OP Kohli gave his approval to the Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Bill-2009, which has a controversial provision of penal action against citizens who fail to cast their franchise in local body polls.}
In July, the Election Commission had informed the Supreme Court that voting cannot be made compulsory since as it would violate the constitutional right of freedom of speech and expression.
Earlier this month, while forming the rules, the state government had declared that a registered voter who fails to vote in the local body polls in Gujarat without providing any valid reason will be fined Rs 100.
The local body polls in 253 municipalities, 208 taluka panchayats, 26 district panchayats and six municipal corporations are expected to be held in October this year.