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The Supreme Court today asked the Centre to decide within a week whether it would amend the electoral law or rules for allowing Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) to vote by postal or e-ballots in the polls here.
A bench comprising Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justice D Y Chandrachud took note of the fact that the Centre and the Election Commission of India (ECI) were agreeable to the report of a panel that NRIs may be allowed to vote.
The poll panel had said the move to allow NRIs to use proxy voting on the lines of defence personnel and e-ballot facility would require changes either in the Representation of People (RP) Act or in the rules made under the Act.
"The only question that arises for consideration now is whether the Union of India (UOI) needs to accept proposals made in the Report dated October, 2014, which have already been accepted, in principle, by way of an amendment of Sections 20 and 20A of the RP Act, 1950, or alternatively, by a mere amendment of the Rules?
"Factually, on the instant aspect of the matter, the UOI had sought time on November 18, 2016. Further time is again being sought. We afford one further opportunity to the UOI to take a final decision, whether the proposals accepted by it need to be implemented by way of an amendment to the provisions of the RP Act or the Rules framed thereunder," the bench said in its order.
Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand, appearing for the Centre, said the Government, in principle, had agreed with the recommendations made in the report prepared by a 12-member committee led by deputy Election Commissioner Vinod Zutshi to explore the feasibility of alternative options for voting by overseas electors.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for one of the petitioners, said that NRIs can be given the right to vote by making changes in the rules only and there was no need to amend the provisions of the RP Act.
The bench has now posted for further hearing on July 21 a batch of petitions filed by Nagender Chindam, who is the chairman of London-based Pravasi Bharat organisation and other NRIs including Shamsheer VP on the issue.
Later, Chindam, in a statement, said, "We are very happy to the results coming through in positive way."
He expressed happiness that the Constitution provides for "the fundamental rights and right to approach Supreme Court to its every citizen".
Earlier, the Centre had said that the draft bill to provide voting rights to NRIs through postal ballots would be further revised before it is tabled in Parliament.
The apex court had said it cannot order the legislature to make or amend a law within a particular time-frame and had granted time to the Centre to effect changes in the statutes to extend voting rights to NRIs through postal or e-ballots.
It was submitted in one of the pleas that in Kerala, 70 per cent of the people were NRIs who should be given this right as they contribute so much to the country.
The PILs have said that 114 countries, including 20 Asian nations, have adopted external voting. It said external voting could be held by setting up polling booths at diplomatic missions or through postal, proxy or electronic voting.
The 12-member committee comprising officials from the EC, Law and External Affairs Ministries had gathered opinion from all sections before submitting a report to the apex court.