Dr Shamsheer Vayalil (right) with Sunil Arora, the Chief Election Commissioner of India, in New Delhi on Monday. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai/New Delhi: The Election Commission of India (ECI) is working closely with the Ministry of Law and Justice and the Ministry of External Affairs in India to find an early resolution to the long-standing NRI [Non-resident Indians] Voting Rights issue, it was revealed on Monday.

The ECI released an official statement on Monday after Dr Shamsheer Vayalil, an NRI entrepreneur based in the UAE and the petitioner in the public interest litigation (PIL) filed before the Supreme Court of India demanding voting rights for NRIs, met Sunil Arora, the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) of India.

“Dr Shamsheer Vayalil, chairman and managing director of VPS Healthcare, met CEC to press for an early resolution to extending the facility of Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) to the Indian diaspora settled abroad. He was informed that the matter was under active and empathic consideration of the ECI,” read the statement.

Dr Vayalil had met the ECI amidst reports that the Indian government was planning to implement postal voting rights for NRIs in non-Gulf countries in the first phase, a press release said. If the federal government and ECI rule in favour of the demand raised by him, then NRIs in the Gulf countries will also be able to exercise their voting rights in the upcoming elections in Kerala, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Puducherry.

Earlier reports indicated that the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had expressed reservations in introducing postal voting system in the Gulf countries. It was reported that the government was planning to implement the new scheme on a pilot basis in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, Germany, France and South Africa.

As per the data available with the MEA, 8,888,373 Indian citizens are reportedly residing in the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. If the government approves postal voting rights for all NRIs, then these people will be able to exercise their democratic rights without having to travel to their respective constituencies.

After meeting the CEC at his office, Dr Vayalil said the meeting was very positive. “The ECI acknowledged and appreciated the legal battle in which I have been involved for the last several years. The ECI has assured that the issue of NRI voting rights is under the consideration of the ECI and the central government.”

“The EC and the officers of the Law Ministry and Ministry of External Affairs are working together to bring an early resolution to the issue. I hope that the benefit of postal voting for NRIs will be extended as early as possible, preferably this year itself,” he added. He also met India’s Law Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, and sought the support of the federal government in finding an early resolution in the matter.

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Under the current law, an NRI is required to travel to his or her respective constituency to exercise voting rights. However, this is expensive and impractical for majority of Indians living abroad. If the federal government amends the Representation of the People Act, 1951, then it will allow millions of NRIs to participate in the democratic process. Though Lok Sabha (Lower House of parliament) had passed a bill allowing proxy voting in 2018, the bill got lapsed due to the dissolution of the parliament ahead of the 2019 general elections.