190802 india supreme court
India's Supreme Court Image Credit: PTI

Dubai: India’s Supreme Court on Thursday decided to dispose of the petition on NRI voting rights in April, the advocate for the UAE-based petitioner Dr. Shamsheer Vayalil told Gulf News.

The apex court bench headed by Justice Deepak Gupta posted the matter for a detailed hearing on a non-miscellaneous day in April when adjourning the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by the NRI entrepreneur, said advocate Haris Beeran, who appeared for Dr. Vayalil.

“With this, it is expected that the long-pending demand of the NRIs will finally get a new lease of life as the court would clear the way forward for the petition in April,” said Beeran.

He said the apex court on Thursday considered a fresh compilation of orders passed till date in the six-year-old plea, which was submitted to draw the attention of the court to the delay in taking an action on the long-pending demand.

Though the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian parliament, had passed a bill enabling NRI proxy voting rights earlier in August 2018, it lapsed following the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha.

Later in June 2019, though there were news reports suggesting that the Union Cabinet may take a call on introducing a fresh bill in the parliament regarding this, nothing has happened so far.

"A detailed compilation was submitted before the court to draw its attention to the continuing delay in reaching to a conclusive action on this," said advocate Haris.

As of now, overseas Indians are free to cast their votes in their registered constituencies. The PIL demands right for NRIs to vote from their places of residence through e-ballot or proxy voting.

An expert committee of the Election Commission in 2015 had forwarded the legal framework to the law ministry to amend the electoral laws allowing the overseas Indians to vote through proxy voting, which at present is restricted to service personnel alone.

Speaking on the latest development, Dr. Vayalil, chairman and managing director of Abu Dhabi-based VPS Healthcare , said that the decision of the apex court is heartening and reassuring.

"I exude hope that the court will rule on the way forward. Once implemented, this would strengthen millions of NRIs to exercise their voting rights from their workplaces across the border. This is a genuine demand. It is the right of every individual to participate in the electoral process. It has been long-pending. I expect, now it would bring in a positive result,” he said.

E-vote or proxy vote?

Reports from India earlier this week said the Indian government has moved to amend the Aadhaar Act to legally empower the Election Commission to link the unique identification number with the electoral roll, which would remove bogus and duplicate entries and pave the way for giving “remote” voting rights to migrant voters within India.

Such a move indicates the possibility of electronic voting for Non-Resident Indians also from their place of residence, said Beeran.

“A cabinet note in this regard will be initiated, according to reports. After the cabinet approves that, the amendment bill can be introduced. If the government tells the court in April that it is going to take a decision in this matter, the court is likely to close the case based on that. Or else, it will hear the case based on its merit. Anyhow, the court will announce the next course of action in April,” he explained.

Revolutionary impact

A final decision on remote voting for NRIs is predicted to have revolutionary impact on the electoral process in India.

According to the previous estimates of the Ministry of External Affairs reported in Indian media, there are about 31 million NRIs living in different countries across the world.

However, the latest UN’s International Migrant Stock said India’s diaspora in absolute numbers increased 10 per cent from 15.9 million in 2015 to 17.5 million in mid-2019.

The UAE, US and Saudi Arabia – with 3.4 million, 2.6 million and 2.4 million respectively – were the top three destinations for Indians, it observed.

However, how many NRIs will be eligible to vote will be known only once they register their names in the electoral roll published by the Election Commission of India.

Earlier reports said only 10,000 - 12,000 overseas voters have exercised their franchise by casting their vote in their constituencies.