NRI Voting Case in Supreme Court

As India finds itself in the throes of a positive political transformation, 10 million NRIs could realize their dream of redefining the political landscape of the country by finally casting their ballot from wherever they are, instead of physically coming to India, if the Supreme Court gives an assent.

This public interest litigation which was filed in the apex court last year by Pravasi Bharat Chairman Nagender Chindam & Ors is coming up for a hearing on
14th Nov 14. In Feb-2013, three-bench court, presided by honourable Chief Justice of India was issued notices to Government and Election Commission. 

The 50-page report was prepared by a 12-member committee led by Vinod Zutshi, Deputy Election Commissioner, for 'Exploring Feasibility of Alternative Options for Voting by Overseas Electors'. The report is submitted to SC.

Now the apex court will look into the aspects submitted by the Committee. The EC committee is of the view that e-postal ballot, where blank postal ballot is transferred electronically to NRIs and returned by post, can be employed after validation of the process and pilot implementation in one or two constituencies and then be scaled up for parliamentary elections if found feasible, practicable and meeting the objectives of free and fair elections

This campaign was pioneered by Pravasi Bharat, a London based organization helmed by Nagender Chindam, which has found echoes amongst the NRI community across the world and this campaign group has been working relentlessly on this issue since its inception in Gandhian style.

NRI’s have been restricted thanks to the existing archaic law which allow an NRI to cast his vote only if he is physically present in his constituency. In an age of internet and fast connectivity this obsolete law which requires monetary and physical effort has discouraged and restricted many NRIs from casting their ballot.

"We are hoping for a positive outcome on this case, which could change the dynamics of Indian politics & will be historic in our largest democracy. There are 10 million Indian citizens staying abroad, and with 543 Lok Sabha constituencies, this means an astonishing average of 18,000 votes per constituency may get polled from abroad. These additional votes, if polled, will obviously play a crucial role in state and general elections. Thanks to the honourable Chief Justice’s Court for considering our writ petition in first place and issuing notices to corresponding authorities in Feb, 2013. Now, thanks to the committee which submitted its report. We are looking forward to hear direction and order from the honourable SC." said Mr Chindam

There are approximately 10 million Indian citizens currently reside outside their home country (as per MOIA estimation). Due to the ‘Representation of the People (Amendment) Act 2010’, they are eligible to vote in Indian elections. The only issue is that they have to be present in their respective constituencies on Election Day to vote.

For years, Indians living abroad have contributed to 4% of GDP leading to India topping the list of countries having the highest foreign remittances in the world. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent visit to the US where he exhorted the NRIs to invest in India and promised to make matters easy for them is proof of this fact.

Many NRIs believe that all citizens should have equal voting rights, regardless of where they are during elections. In February 2011, the Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs announced that there were no specific plans to introduce online voting or postal balloting for NRIs, and that the Election Commission would have to decide when and how to proceed on this matter. Since then precious little has happened.

"We are in the modern age, wherein postal voting and online voting are widely acknowledged in most of the democracies in the world. India can send a rocket to mars, I am sure, we can easily set up the best feasible voting options for eligible non-resident citizens using the technology and most efficient processes" added Mr Chindam.

Dr Naresh Hanchate, a US based NRI and one of the petitioner states, “It is fair to provide equal rights to vote irrespective of where voters live, because of the globalisation & professionals moving across the globe to render their services. It’s crucial for the nation to include NRI citizens fundamentally to be part of our democratic system.” 

Arti Gujare, a UK based NRI pleads that with the voting rights, “ I CAN keep my head high and say "I can be the change for India, be a proud citizen of India, if I am able to participate in our great democracy through e-postal/online/proxy voting in the future elections."

Another NRI Vijay Bhaskar from Germany says an overseas voting right for NRIs is an important case that could finally see some step forwards. Some may think that NRIs as outsiders and won’t contribute to the economy, “Let’s not forget income to the Government by the way of remittances, accounts to over 4% of our country’s GDP, The figures of 2013 surge to $7.18 billion”

The NRI fraternity is very positive about the outcome of their plea in Supreme Court. Srujan Chada, NRI from London, feels “we believe that all citizens should have equal rights, regardless of where they happen to be at election time. Most of the democracies like Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Philippines and the United Kingdom already have “Absentee ballot” for their citizens abroad. We positively hope that our greater and largest democracy will have this feature soon. We are looking forward to Honourable Supreme court's direction on this matter.”

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