Q. Why is this in news?
- Recently , Election Commission asked the Law Ministry to permit NRIs to cast their votes from overseas through postal ballots.
- The Commission told the government it had received representations from the Indian diaspora about facilitating voting through postal votes since travelling to India only for this purpose is a “costly affair”.
- Otherwise, too they cannot leave the country of their residence owing to specific compulsions of employment, education or other engagements,” states the EC’s letter addressed to the Law Secretary.
- The EC informed the government that it is “technically and administratively ready” to extend the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) to voters abroad for elections next year in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.
Q. What is current of strength of NRI voters?
- According to a UN report of 2015, India’s diaspora population is the largest in the world at 16 million people. Registration of NRI voters, in comparison, has been very low: a little over one lakh overseas Indians registered as voters in India, according to the EC. In last year’s Lok Sabha elections, roughly 25,000 of them flew to India to vote.
Q. How will voting by postal ballots is proposed for NRIs?
- According to the EC proposal, any NRI interested in voting through the postal ballot in an election will have to inform the Returning Officer (RO) not later than five days after the notification of the election. On receiving such information, the RO will dispatch the ballot paper electronically. The NRI voters will download the ballot paper, mark their preference on the printout and send it back along with a declaration attested by an officer appointed by the diplomatic or consular representative of India in the country where the NRI is resident.
- It’s not clear, at this moment, if the voter will return the ballot paper herself through ordinary post or drop it off at the Indian Embassy, which may then segregate the envelopes constituency-wise and send them to the Chief Electoral Officer of the state concerned for forwarding to the RO.
Q. Why NRIs of the Gulf countries won’t get postal voting rights for now?
- The EC, for now, hasn't included Gulf countries in its proposed pilot.
- In a meeting held recently with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), the Election Commission (EC) has indicated to the government the countries where it would like to have postal voting introduced for NRIs on a pilot basis.
- The proposal may get implemented first for voters based in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, Germany, France, and South Africa.
- For now, Gulf countries are not part of the proposed pilot.
Q. What are the reasons for leaving out the Gulf countries, which have significant Indian diaspora, from the proposed pilot?
- The Commission obviously does not have anything against the NRIs settled in the Gulf countries such as Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. However, the MEA has in the past expressed strong reservations over facilitating voting for Indian citizens living in non-democratic nations.
- Holding a democratic exercise, involving voters queuing outside Indian Missions and Embassies, in non-democratic countries will require permissions, and the host nation may not approve.
- Given these concerns, the Commission , for now, hasn’t included Gulf countries in its proposed pilot.
Q. What is the current strength of NRI voters?
- According to a UN report of 2015, India’s diaspora population is the largest in the world at 16 million people.
- Registration of NRI voters, in comparison, has been very low: a little over 1 lakh overseas Indians registered as voters in India, according to the EC.
- In last year’s Lok Sabha elections, roughly 25,000 of them flew to India to vote.
Q. Which foreign countries have the largest numbers of NRIs registered as voters in India?
- The EC does not have data on NRI voters broken down country-wise. Rather, the Commission keeps the data for every state in India.
- Therefore, we know the states in which NRIs are registered as voters, but not the foreign country in which they reside.
- Out of 1.18 lakh NRI voters, the largest number — about 89,000 — are registered to vote in Kerala. The second-largest cohort (roughly 7,500) are registered in Andhra Pradesh, followed by Maharashtra (5,500 approx), Karnataka (4,500 approx), Tamil Nadu (3,200), and Telangana (2,500).
- Given that the poll panel is now keen on allowing overseas electors to vote in Indian elections from abroad, however, it will also have to maintain country-wise information.