“In the absence of clear instructions, formation commanders are chary of encouraging the soldiers under their command to register,” says Maj. Gen. (retd.) Satbir Singh

On Wednesday, around 1,200 serving soldiers from two units in Leh got themselves registered as general voters with their commanding officers assisting them with procuring and filling up relevant forms.

Similar reports were received from the College of Military Engineering in Pune and cantonments in Punjab, where serving soldiers came forward to register themselves as voters after the Supreme Court on Monday directed the Election Commission to ensure that defence personnel be allowed to vote at the place of their posting.

In Punjab (where there are eight major cantonments), following instructions received from the EC, Chief Electoral Officer V.K. Singh has asked the District Election Officers to register serving soldiers who have been in their stations as on January 1, 2014. Punjab’s 13 constituencies are among the 200 odd ones where defence personnel can still register themselves as general voters as the election process has not begun there.

Small window

The SC held that it would not be possible to register new voters in 225 Lok Sabha constituencies where the election process has begun. “We have very small window of few days and in the absence of clear instructions from the three service headquarters, formation commanders are chary of encouraging the soldiers under their command to register,” said Major General (retd.) Satbir Singh, president of the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement.

Following the August 2013 judgment of the Punjab and Haryana High Court that dismissed a petition on voting rights of soldiers and upheld the stipulation that they need to stay a minimum three years at one station to be able to vote, service headquarters issued orders to that effect. Most formations, Maj. Gen. Singh said, were still unaware of the SC ruling and were still following the old order. “It is now the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence to ensure that service headquarters issue fresh instructions as soon as possible and for the latter to launch registration drives in the cantonments so that maximum number of serving defence personnel are able to vote in the coming Lok Sabha election.”

‘Send revised circulars’

Due to the efforts of ex-servicemen organisations around 40,000 soldiers got registered in Delhi, 40,000 in Jalandhar, 12,000 in Meerut, and many more in Agra, Mathura, Babina, Jhansi cantonments. According to Neela Gokhale, a petitioner in the special leave petition before the apex Court, the Accountant General’s branch should take the initiative and send revised circulars to formation commanders to expedite things.”

Meanwhile, political parties have begun approaching the EC for permission to campaign in cantonments. The Supreme Court has left it to the EC to take a view on enforcing these restrictions.

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