‘Can be sold for profit’: Sitaram Yechury warns on postal ballots for NRIs
Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury on Tuesday told Hindustan Times that the Election Commission’s proposal to extend postal ballot facilities to overseas electors is an exercise fraught with large-scale manipulation, suggesting to the poll body to set up a polling station in their missions abroad, a practice followed by other countries.
“In the Gulf countries especially, many Indians are taken by managers who even impound their passports,” Yechury told Hindustan Times. “The people working there will be under immense pressure, their postal ballots can easily be manipulated and sold for profit.”
Yechury was referring to the EC proposal sent to the law ministry on November 27 to expedite an amendment to the People’s Representation Act, which will allow non-resident Indians to vote remotely using the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (EPTBS) in the upcoming elections in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam, Puducherry and West Bengal. The amendments, if approved, will have far reaching ramifications as they will not require the nod of Parliament.
“When this question was first raised in 2014, we said it was not feasible,” Yechury said. “Then the BJP introduced a bill in the Lok Sabha that wasn’t passed by the Rajya Sabha.”
The veteran leader added that the top poll body was increasingly bypassing the deliberative process, wherein it would consult all political parties before taking such a decision, that had been its modus operandi since Independence.
“Increasingly, decisions are being taken without consultation,” Yechury said. “The same happened when it came to expanding the ambit of postal ballots during the Bihar elections, a decision that the EC eventually did not implement.”
According to Yechury, the ideal method to enable non-resident Indians (NRIs) to vote in polls would be to set up a polling station in their missions overseas to enable physical voting.
“The practice is followed world over and this way a free and fair exercise of one’s voting rights can be ensured,” he said. “Diplomats, businessmen who come to India from abroad often use this means to cast their vote.”
At present, voters living outside India can only cast their vote in their respective constituencies. The amendment proposes that overseas voters send an intimation in Form 12 to the Returning Officer within five days following the date of the said election. In return, the RO shall issue a postal ballot paper to the elector.
There are 12.6 million non-resident Indians (NRIs), those holding an Indian passport but ordinarily residing outside the country, spread across more than 200 nations, according to the government. The number could make a significant difference in the states which have a large population overseas such as Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Telangana and Punjab.
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