Electoral Reforms In India

The move to ease Voting for Overseas Citizens

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NRI vs OCI

Mains level : Voting rights issue

The Union Government was exploring the possibility of allowing online voting for non-resident Indians (NRI).

Why in news?

  • The matter of to ease voting for NRIs comes in the wake of a proposal made by the Election Commission of India (ECI).
  • The Law Ministry in November 2020 decided to extend the facility of postal ballots to eligible NRIs for the various State Assembly elections to be held in 2021.
  • The ECI then, had proposed amending the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, in order to allow this facility.

NRI vs. OCI

  • The term NRI is a residential status designed by the Income Tax Department of the Indian government and has efficiency only during filing Income Tax returns.
  • On the other hand, OCI is an immigration status or special visa in layman’s language provided to foreign nationals of Indian origin by the Indian government to work or live indefinitely.

How can overseas voters currently vote in Indian elections?

  • Prior to 2010, an Indian citizen who is an eligible voter and was residing abroad for more than six months, would not have been able to vote in elections.
  • This was because the NRI’s name was deleted from electoral rolls if he or she stayed outside the country for more than six months at a stretch.
  • After the passing of the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 2010, eligible NRIs who had stayed abroad beyond six months have been able to vote, but only in person at the polling station where they have been enrolled as an overseas elector.
  • Just as any resident Indian citizen above the age of 18 years) is eligible to vote in the constituency where she/he is a resident, overseas Indian citizens are also eligible to do so.
  • In the case of overseas voters, their address mentioned in the passport is taken as the place of ordinary residence and chosen as the constituency for the overseas voter to enroll in.

How has the existing facility worked so far?

  • Hike in voters: From merely 11,846 overseas voters who registered in 2014, the number went up to close to a lakh in 2019. But the bulk of these voters (nearly 90%) belonged to just one State — Kerala.
  • Section 20-1A, Part III of the RP Act: It addresses this to some extent by qualifying “a person absenting himself temporarily from his place of ordinary residence shall not by reason thereof cease to be ordinarily resident therein.
  • Proxy provisions: The Bill provided for overseas voters to be able to appoint a proxy to cast their votes on their behalf, subject to conditions laid down in the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961.
  • Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System: The ECI then approached the government to permit NRIs to vote via postal ballots similar to a system that is already used by service voters, (a member of the armed Forces of the Union; or a member of a force to which provisions of the Army Act, 1950 (46 of 1950) which is ETPBS. The ECI proposed to extend this facility to overseas voters as well.

What is ETPBS and how does it function?

  • The Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 was amended in 2016 to allow service voters to use the ETPBS.
  • Under this system, postal ballots are sent electronically to registered service voters.
  • The service voter can then download the ETPB (along with a declaration form and covers), register their mandate on the ballot and send it to the returning officer of the constituency via ordinary mail.
  • The post will include an attested declaration form (after being signed by the voter in the presence of an appointed senior officer who will attest it).
  • The postal ballot must reach the returning officer by 8 a.m. on the day of the counting of results.
  • In the case of NRI voters, those seeking to vote through ETPBS will have to inform the returning officer at least five days after notification of the election.

Will this facility be available to all overseas voters across countries?

  • There were news reports that the ECI had indicated to the Ministry of External Affairs that it would want postal voting introduced on a pilot basis in non-Gulf countries.
  • But the ECI had asked the Law Ministry to explore the possibility of extending postal ballots to overseas electors and not restrict it to any particular country.
  • In March 2021, the Ministry of External Affairs informed ECI that the implementation could require to overcome “huge logistical challenges” and needs “a realistic assessment of requirements”

Are postal ballots a viable means of voting?

  • The ETPBS method allowed for greater turnout among service voters in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
  • With the increasing mobility of citizens across countries for reasons related to work, the postal ballot method has been internationally recognized.
  • A postal ballot mechanism that allows for proper authentication of the ballot at designated consular/embassy offices and an effective postal system should ease this process for NRIs.

Back2Basics: NRI vs OCI

Non-Resident Indian (NRI)

  • To mention it, NRI is someone who is not a resident of India.
  • However, the law is much more complicated and must be delved deeper to gain an inclusive insight into the sector.
  • A person is considered a resident of India if he/she has been staying in India for a minimum tenure of 182 days during the previous financial year of a particular year. OR
  • A person living in India for a total of 365 days during the previous four financial years and a minimum of 60 days during the last financial years is considered a citizen for a particular year.
  • Now an NRI or a non-resident of India is eligible to pay charges for only the first two situations, which means either the income received or earned in India.
  • Therefore, the NRI status also influences the enjoyable rights of that person.

Overseas Citizen of India (OCI)

  • OCI is a card issued by the government of India that denotes that a non-resident or foreigner has been permitted to stay and work within Indian boundaries.
  • Hence, this card provides foreigners with an immigration status without any limited tenure.
  • There are cases where PIOs of specific categories are allowed for OCI cards that have migrated from India to foreign countries (except Pakistan and Bangladesh) if the other government agrees for dual citizenship.
  • An individual holding an OCI card can be an overseas citizen of India in the layman’s language.
  • So an OCI is not a citizen of India, but the Indian government has given the cardholder permission to reside and work within the boundaries of India.
  • Residents migrating from Pakistan and Bangladesh are not eligible for holding the OCI card. Even if their parents are citizens of both countries, the applicants will be denied having an OCI card.

 

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