Electoral Reforms In India

Voting right to migrant workers

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RP Act

Mains level : Paper 2- Securing voting right to migrant workers through ballot paper

A large number of migrant workers cannot vote in their constituency. This assumes significance when we consider that the Supreme Court has interpreted the right to vote as an extension of the fundamental right of the freedom of expression. So,  the ECI should find ways to enable them exercise their right.

Universal adult franchise: India’s achievement

  • India moved from a restrictive 15 per cent of Indians having limited voting rights to universal adult franchise.
  • Transformative nature of the Indian national movement and the ideals of equality and non-discrimination enshrined in it played a crucial role in it.
  • It was B R Ambedkar’s clarity of vision that resulted in Article 326 of the Constitution.
  • Ambedkar had influenced public opinion on the matter for decades, giving evidence before the Southborough committee.

Migrant workers: some facts

  • According to the 2011 Census, the number of internal migrants stands at 45 crore.
  • Among these, 26 per cent of the migration, that is, 11.7 crore occurs inter-district within the same state.
  • 12 per cent of the migration, that is, 5.4 crore occurs inter-state.
  • Both official and independent experts admit that this number is underestimated.
  • Circular migration accounts for those migrants who have not permanently relocated to host cities, and instead circulate between host and home cities.
  • Short-term and circular migration could itself amount to 6-6.5 crore.
  • Half of these are inter-state migrants.
  • Migrant labourers mostly hail from most poverty-driven rural areas.
  • They are from among the most marginalised sections SC/STs and OBCs, and other minorities.
  • As of 2011, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were the largest sources of inter-state migrants, with 83 lakh and 63 lakh migrants respectively.

Low turnout in the source states

  •  Economic constraints disable a majority of migrant workers from voting as they cannot commute to their home states on the polling day.
  • One survey shows that only 48 per cent of those surveyed voted in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, when the national average was 59.7 per cent.
  • In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, major sender states such as Bihar and UP had among the lowest voter turnout rates.

Inability to satisfy “Ordinary Resident” criteria

  • Given the nature of migration being circular and seasonal, migrants are not permanent/long-term residents in host cities.
  • So, they do not satisfy the requirements of being an “ordinary resident” under Section 20 of the Representation of People Act (RP Act), in the host state, to obtain voter cards.
  • They are, therefore, unable to transfer their constituency.

Solution: Postal ballot

  • The Election Commission of India has under Section 60(c) of the RP Act the power to notify a certain class of persons to vote via postal ballot.
  • The ECI’s much-proclaimed mission to ensure “no voters are left behind” has resulted in attempts to ensure a secure system of postal ballots.
  • In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, more than 28 lakh votes were received via postal ballots.
  • The Indian migrant worker should be given the right to vote through a similar system.

Consider the question “There is scope for increasing the voter turnout in India and enabling the migrant workers to vote could be one of them. Examine the reasons for low voting turnout in India and suggest the measures to improve it.”

Conclusion

Securing the migrant workers right to vote will make democracy inclusive, responsible and sensitive to the concerns of those who find it difficult to make their voice heard.

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