No postal ballot pilot planned for non-Gulf NRIs: Election Commission
Clarifying its position on the introduction of postal ballots in non-Gulf countries, the Election Commission of India said that it has made no such proposal.
In its reply to a Member of Parliament’s query, dated December 23, the commission has unequivocally denied reports that postal ballot facilities will be extended to select non-Gulf countries first.
“At the outset it is made clear that the commission has not made any pilot proposal,” the EC said in its reply, a copy of which has been seen by the Hindustan Times. “The current proposal to extend the ETPBS voting option in favour of overseas electors is an extension of the continuing efforts of the commission to facilitate voting to the overseas electors, notwithstanding the amendment in the Act in 2011, which is yet to be materialised in the true sense.”
The commission added that the logistics of the same are being worked out in consultation with the ministry of external affairs. “The proposal, which is still to be approved by the law ministry, will be implemented across the globe, not launched selectively,” said a person familiar with the matter.
The EC wrote to the law ministry on November 27 to expedite the amendment of the People’s Representation Act, 1951, to extend the postal ballot facility to overseas electors. Of the 12.6 million Indians residing overseas, only little over a hundred thousand are registered as voters with the Election Commission of India, people familiar with the matter said. According to official estimates, at least 60-65% of the 12.6 million people residing overseas are likely to be eligible to vote in the Indian elections.
It has proposed that voting be done via Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS), which was tested in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections for service voters.
“One needs to understand how the ETPBS works,” said a person familiar with the matter. “A designated officer is appointed in the regiment of the service voter to whom postal ballots are sent electronically. The officer gives this to the voter and then posts the ballot to the Returning Officer (RO).”
The commission, in its letter to the Law Ministry, has similarly proposed the appointment of a designated officer by the diplomatic or consular representative of India. The modalities for how the postal ballot process will be conducted, however, are yet to be finalised. The commission has asked that the facility be extended before the upcoming polls next year in the states of Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam, Kerala and Puducherry.
The proposed amendment faced backlash from political parties that alleged that they had not been consulted in the process. CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury had said that the amendment may be open to large-scale manipulation, with ballots being sold for profits.
Countering Yechury’s claim that political parties had not been consulted, the commission on December 19 wrote to veteran political leader, stating that the postal ballot facility was only an “extension of the continuing efforts of the Commission to facilitate voting for overseas electors”.
The commission added that detailed consultations were held with various stakeholders in 2015, including political parties, wherein a committee was set up by the EC to look into the matter.