New Delhi: The Indian parliament's lower house, Lok Sabha, on Thursday passed a bill that proposes to amend the Representation of the People Act, 1951 to enable the overseas electors to appoint proxies to cast their votes in the elections to Lok Sabha and state assemblies.
Replying to the debate on the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2017, Law Minister Ravi Shankar said it was a "momentous event" and a big opportunity was being given to non-resident Indians (NRIs).
He said the constitution makers had given the right to vote to all Indians and as such the NRIs also had the right. "Let us not deride the contribution of NRIs. They have made a place for themselves by their hard work. Their commitment to India is truly remarkable," he said.
Responding to the apprehension of some members that the proxy provision can be misused, he said rules will be made in such a way that if law is flouted, it will lead to cancellation of the mandate.
Responding to members' concerns about migrant workers, Prasad said the Election Commission was already working on it.
"Our sympathy is with them. They should be given the right to vote," he said.
Prasad said migrant workers can at present vote from their original place of living or by satisfying the Election Commission that they were ordinary residents of their place of work.
Referring to the concerns of members about the word "proxy", Prasad said it is not a dirty word.
"It is a properly defined legal word. Armed forces are also given right of proxy voting," he said.
About the suggestion for introducing e-voting, Prasad said there were a lot of difficulties in it and more advancement in technology will be needed to make a secure architecture.
Pointing to opposition benches, he said they should not have any objection if NRIs want to listen to Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he travels abroad.
He said India is seen as a global power.
The Representation of the People Act, 1950 provides for allocation of seats and delimitation of constituencies for elections, qualifications of voters, and preparation of electoral rolls.
The Representation of the People Act, 1951, provides for the conduct of elections and offences and disputes related to elections.
The statement of objects and reasons of the bill states that the Registration of Electors Rules, 1960 provide that the overseas electors can register themselves in the electoral rolls and exercise their franchise in person on production of original passport.
Day of polling
"The existing rules stipulate the physical presence of the overseas electors in the respective polling station in India on the day of polling. This causes hardship to the overseas electors in exercising their franchise by being present in India on the day of polling.
"In view of the above difficulty faced by the overseas electors, the Government has considered the feasibility of facilitating external mode of voting i.e. voting by proxy, whereby such electors can exercise their franchise from their place of residence abroad," the statement said.
The bill proposes to amend section 60 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 to enable the overseas electors to appoint a proxy to cast the vote in an election on their behalf, subject to certain conditions to be laid down.
According to a UN survey, India's diaspora population is the largest in the world with 16 million people from the country living in 2015.
The bill also proposes changes in the Acts to make provisions gender neutral and replace the term wife with spouse.