The Gujarat Assembly on Saturday adopted an official Bill making voting compulsory in elections to all the local bodies in the State amidst opposition from the Congress which termed the move as “impractical and designed with political motives.”
Gujarat has emerged as the first State in the country to make voting compulsory in the local elections following the example, as Chief Minister Narendra Modi described, of 32 countries where the pattern of exercising the adult franchise showed a remarkable improvement from 45 per cent to over 90 per cent.
Earlier, the House also adopted another official Bill providing for death penalty for those who manufacture, supply and distribute spurious liquor causing loss of precious human lives. The Bill, which was earlier adopted by the House in July but was returned by the then Governor, S. C. Jamir, for reconsideration on grounds that the provision of death penalty could be prescribed only in the Central Acts, was re-introduced in the same form without taking the Governor’s concern into account and passed by the House second time amidst protests from the Congress Opposition benches.
Talking to journalists after the adoption of the “Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment), 2009,” the Chief Minister described the measure to make voting compulsory in the local body elections as a “historic move to strengthen democracy” and taking it from “drawing room politics to the polling booth level.”
Regretting that the kind of solidarity the people showed in lighting the candles in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attack was not demonstrated in the elections to choose their own rulers who would handle such situations, Mr. Modi said Gujarat had shown the way and hopefully other States and the country would follow suit. Claiming that the move would help eliminate some corrupt practices in the electoral process, he said, “politics and politicians would have to think beyond vote bank politics and ethnic groups and regional settings.”
He said the idea was not to “punish” the “defaulters” who fail to cast their votes without a valid reason, but to instill a sense of discipline. “Why should not people spare just half-an-hour as and when the elections are held to cast their votes?” he asked. It was intriguing that the candidates and parties with support of less than 25 per cent of the total voters ruled for years because a large majority of people did not participate in the voting and had no voice in selecting their rulers, he said.
The Bill seeks to make voting compulsory in all the seven municipal corporations, 159 municipalities, 26 district panchayats, 223 taluka panchayats and over 13,000 village panchayats in the State. It empowers an official chosen by the State Election Commission to declare an absent voter as a “defaulter” except under the circumstances of illness or being away from the state or the country on the voting day. The defaulter could be “punished” under rules to be framed by the government later after giving due notice.
The House also passed another official measure providing 50 per cent reservation for women in all the local bodies in the state.
After a marathon debate, the House passed the “Bombay Prohibition (Gujarat Amendment) Bill, 2009” providing for death penalty for the handlers of the spurious liquor. The Bill was originally passed in July in the aftermath of the hooch tragedy in Ahmedabad in which 136 people were killed and many others affected by partial blindness and other complications. The then Governor, however, had returned the bill for re-consideration and wider discussions with various sections of the society before re-adoption. Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Shaktisinh Gohil said, the Bill was “merely a political gimmick of the ruling BJP to garner cheap popularity and indulge in muscle flexing to show that the Central government is not helpful. It is an extension of the confrontationist mindset of the State against the Centre,” he said.