New Delhi, April 7: The Supreme Court asked the central government and the Election Commission to respond what steps they can take to ensure that NRIs who are registered as voters can exercise their franchise from where ever they are in the ongoing elections to elect 16th Lok Sabha.
A bench of Justice K.S.Radhakrishnan and Justice N.V.Ramana, while brushing aside the Election Commission’s plea that it be given time till August to take a call on the plea, asked both to positively say by Friday what can be done to ensure registered NRI voters to exercise their franchise.
At the outset of the hearing, senior counsel Meenakshi Arora, appearing for Election Commission, expressed its inability to accommodate the NRI voters as except for last two phases of the nine phase elections, the voters list has been frozen.
Senior counsel Mukul Rohtagi, appearing for NRI petitioner Shamsheer V.P., said that there were arrangements for the Indian staff posted in diplomatic missions to cast their votes and the same facilities could be extended to NRI voters who are registered as voters in India.
Arora however said that there were exceptions carved in the Representation of the People Act for such category of people to cast their votes, thereby indicating that if NRIs had to be accommodated under this category, then it had to be expanded which required amendment to the act.
Arora told the court that Election Commission will set up a committee to examine this issue and they are already exploring the possibility of NRIs exercising their franchise through electronic voting through internet. She sought to assure the court that NRIs would be able to vote in any election that may follow the Lok Sabha polls be it election to a state assembly.
Faced with a stiff resistance by the Election Commission, Rohtagi told the court that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during his address at Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, had said that they want Indians abroad to have a say in the governance of the country.
The court also dismissed on the grounds of cost the submission that registered NRIs could travel to their constituencies to exercise their voting rights.
However, the court told petitioner Shamsheer V.P., who is settled in the United Arab Emirates, that he should have come earlier instead of knocking the doors of the top court at the eleventh hour.
Appearing for the central government, Additional Solicitor General K.V.Vishwanathan told the court that Election Commission could at least considering extending the voting rights to the NRIs registered as voters.
The court was hearing a PIL petition by Shamsheer seeking direction to the central government and the Election Commission that NRIs who are registered voters should be allowed to cast their votes even from their foreign locations.
Seeking reading down of section 20A of the Representation of People (Amendment) Act 2010 that mandates the presence of the listed voter at the polling station to cast his vote, the petitioner Said that any distinction between the those physically present at polling booth and those away would be violative of article 19(1) as well as article 21 of the constitution.
Seeking recognition of the right to external voting, the PIL says that existing provisions creates distinct two categories of haves and have nots amongst 1,00,37,761 NRIs (as on May, 2012 as per the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs) residing abroad as only 11,000 have enrolled themselves as voters in the electoral rolls.