Recently, the Union government told the Supreme Court (SC) that it was considering ways to facilitate non-resident Indians (NRI), especially migrant labourers, to cast their votes remotely.
- The Supreme Court disposed of the Petition stating that the Plea was filed in 2013 “at a stage when nothing was being done to enable such persons to cast their votes.
- But today the awareness has not only seeped in, but it went to the extent of tabling a Bill before one of the Houses of the Parliament.
- Court’s Stand:
- Making the postal ballot facility available to soldiers serving in far-flung areas across the country was different from affording the same facility to someone who had chosen to reside abroad.
- However, migrant labourers would often find it beyond their limited means to fly in just to cast their vote.
- The government was aware of the issue and had even introduced a Bill to amend the Representation of the People Act to allow overseas Indians to vote by proxy.
- The Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill had however lapsed with the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha.
Supreme Court recommended Committee (2013)
- On Court’s notice in February 2013, the Election Commission had constituted a committee “to look into the matter with regard to ways and means to facilitate voting for non-resident Indians and migrant workers”.
- The committee thereafter submitted its report.
- The central government had accepted the recommendations made by the Election Commission and then introduced a Bill in 2018 in Lok Sabha to amend Section 60 of Representation of People Act, 1951.
Who are the NRIs?
- Overseas Indians, officially collectively known as Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) and Overseas Citizens of India (OCI).
- NRIs are Indian citizens who are not residents of India and OCI are people of Indian birth or ancestry who live outside and also are not the citizens of the Republic of India.
Classification of Overseas Indians
- Non-Resident Indian (NRI): Strictly asserting non-resident refers only to the tax status of a person who, as per section 6 of the Income-tax Act of 1961, has not resided in India for a specified period for the purposes of the Act.
- The rates of income tax are different for persons who are “resident in India” and for NRIs.
- Person of Indian Origin (PIO): Person of Indian Origin (PIO) means a foreign citizen (except a national of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Iran, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and/or Nepal), who:
- at any time held an Indian passport
- either of their parents/grandparents/great-grandparents were born and permanently resident in India as defined in GoI Act, 1935 and other territories that became part of India thereafter provided neither was at any time a citizen of any of the aforesaid countries
- is a spouse of a citizen of India or a PIO
- Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI): After multiple efforts by leaders across the Indian political spectrum, a pseudo-citizenship scheme was established, the “Overseas Citizenship of India”, commonly referred to as the OCI card.
- The Constitution of India does not permit full dual citizenship.
- The OCI card is effectively a long-term visa, with restrictions on voting rights and government jobs.
Current Status of Voting for Overseas Citizens
- After the passing of the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 2010:
- NRIs who had stayed abroad beyond six months have been able to vote, but only in person at the polling station where they have been enrolled as an overseas elector.
- However, only a very low proportion of overseas residents actually registered or turned up to vote.
- The provision of having to visit the polling booth in person has discouraged eligible voters from exercising their mandate.
- The Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 was amended in 2016:
- To allow service voters to use the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS).
- Under this system, postal ballots are sent electronically to registered service voters.
- The service voter can then register their mandate on the ballot and send it back via ordinary mail.
- The ECI proposed to extend this facility to overseas voters as well.
- In the case of overseas voters:
- Their address mentioned in the passport is taken as the place of ordinary residence and chosen as the constituency for the overseas voter to enrol in.
- Allowing NRIs to vote from abroad may see expatriates emerge as a decisive force in the country’s electoral politics.
- NRI voters could be empowered better by amending the law.
- Purpose is to see that persons living outside India and migrant labourers are still part of the entire electoral process and every facility shall be extended which will also ensure the confidentiality of the election