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Cabinet defers proposal on NRIs' voting rights

Tuesday January 24, 2017 4:43 PM, PTI

New Delhi: The Union Cabinet Tuesday is learnt to have deferred a proposal to extend the facility of voting by electronic means and proxy to overseas Indians by amending electoral laws.

Sources in the government said the proposal to amend the Representation of the People Act was part of the Cabinet's agenda which met this morning. But, it was deferred.

The reasons behind deferring the proposal were not immediately known.

Service personnel, including those serving in the armed forces, have already been extended the facility of receiving their postal ballots through electronic means by amending rules. They already have the option to cast their votes through proxy.

For overseas Indians, the Representation of the People Act needs to be amended to include postal ballot and proxy voting as other ways to cast their votes.

An expert committee in the Election Commission working on the issue had, in 2015, forwarded the legal framework to the Law Ministry to amend electoral laws to allow overseas Indians use proxy voting and e-ballot facility.

Data shows that only 10,000 to 12,000 NRIs have voted because they do not want to spend foreign currency to come to the country and vote.

While NRIs and overseas Indians are free to cast their votes in constituencies where they are registered, as per the proposal, they would also be allowed to use the option of proxy, which as of now is only available to service personnel.

Another option would be to use postal ballots delivered to them by electronic means to cast their votes. This would mean amending the current laws governing the right to vote.

From the day the nomination process ends till the day of voting, the poll authorities have 14 days. Within this period, they would have to print the postal ballots, send them and the voters would have to return the same. Thus, to save time, the committee has recommended sending them by electronic means.

Law Ministry sources said the voters will be provided with a 'one-time password' (OTP) to download the ballot paper.

They will have to fill it up and send it by post to the poll authorities.

"A suggestion made is that the voter can send the ballot by post to the nearest Indian Mission or Consulate. It will then be the duty of the Mission to send it to either the MEA in New Delhi or Election Commission through diplomatic bag.

The authorities in India can then send the ballot to the Returning Officer concerned," explained a senior Law Ministry official.

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