The Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill of 2017 , introduced by the government during the winter session of Parliament, proposes to allow non-resident Indians (NRIs) to emerge as a decisive force in the country’s electoral politics on their own terms. The amendment paves the way to remove an “unreasonable restriction” posed by Section 20A of the Representation of the People Act, which requires overseas electors to be physically present in their electoral constituencies to cast their votes.
The effort to empower NRI voters began with two PILs filed by V.P. Shamsheer, a U.A.E.-based doctor, and Nagender Chindam, chairman of Pravasi Bharat in London, in the Supreme Court.
The Election Commission prepared a report titled ‘Exploring Feasibility of Alternative Options for Voting by Overseas Electors’ and presented it in the apex court. The EC said NRI voters could be empowered better if the law was amended.
In the statement of objects and reasons for the 2017 Amendment Bill, the government explains that the original Representation of the People Act was enacted as an all-encompassing law for the conduct of elections, delimitation of constituencies, allocation of seats in Parliament and State Legislatures, corrupt electoral practices, and so on.
Section 20A of the Act provides for registration and inclusion of overseas electors in the electoral rolls. The Registration of Electors Rules, 1960 provide for overseas electors to register themselves in the electoral rolls of their respective constituencies on the basis of self-attested copies of their passport and valid visa, and exercise their franchise in person on production of the original passport at the time of voting at the specified polling booth.
Thus, the rules demand for the physical presence of overseas electors in their respective polling stations in India on the day of polling. “This causes hardship to the overseas electors,” the statement said. This amendment proposes facilitating an external mode of voting, that is, voting by proxy, whereby such electors can exercise their franchise from their places of residence abroad.
If the Bill is passed, overseas voters can appoint a proxy to cast their votes on their behalf, subject to certain conditions to be laid down in the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961.
“This would considerably mitigate the difficulties presently faced by overseas electors in exercising their franchise,” the statement in the Bill reasoned.