The Supreme Court Friday issued notice to the central government asking why NRIs who are registered voters should not get the opportunity to exercise their voting rights in the ongoing general election from wherever they are located.
A bench of Justice KS Radhakrishnan and Justice Vikramajit Sen issued notice even as Attorney General GE Vahanvati sought to present the logistic problem that the Election Commission would face in making arrangements for their voting.
Vahanvati told the court that under section 20A of the Representation of the People Act (Amendment), 2010, the registered NRI voters can vote if they are present in the constituency on the day of polling.
Describing it a “serious matter” that needed to be dealt with urgency, the court asked government to respond to the plea as it directed the listing of the matter April 7.
Appearing for the PIL petitioner Shamsheer VP, senior counsel Harish Salve told the court that the first phase of Lok Sabha polling in Kerala was going to be held on April 10 and matter was of some urgency.
The court was told that there were 11,000 registered NRI voters living in different parts of the world.
Dr Shamsheer has contended that the existing provision under section 20A that mandates the NRI voter to be physically present in the constituency to exercise his vote was discriminatory and violative of fundamental rights under article 14 (Equality before law) guaranteed under the constitution and sought it be read down.
“If the relief … sought … is granted, then a total number of 1,00,37,761 people will be entitled to cast their vote as against a paltry 11,000 who have registered” at present, he said.
The PIL has contended that it was incumbent upon the government to ensure that NRIs too have the same rights and freedom as those enjoyed by citizens living in India.
It said that any distinction between the two (those abroad and those who have come to India) resulting in the denial of NRIs right to vote would be violative of article 19(1) as well as article 21.
The PIL said 114 countries have adopted external voting and amongst it are 20 Asian countries.
It said that the external voting could be by setting up polling booths at the diplomatic mission, or by postal, proxy or electronic voting.
Dr Shamsheer migrated to the UAE 12 years ago prior to which he was enrolled as a voter in his hometown of Calicut, Kerala and had voted in the elections. Subsequently he was removed from the voters list because of his NRI status.
He operates nine hospitals in the UAE and a pharmaceutical manufacturing unit with a combined staff strength of around 5,600 people of which 3,600 are Indians.