Lok Sabha passes Representation of People (Amendment) Bill, 2017 to allow proxy voting to overseas Indians

Lok Sabha has passed Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2017 by voice vote to extend the facility of ‘proxy voting’ to overseas Indians, on the lines of service voters. The Bill seeks to amend Representation of People Act (RPA), 1950 and Representation of People Act (RPA), 1951 to allow for proxy voting and make certain provisions of these Acts gender-neutral.

Background

RPA, 1950 provides for allocation of seats and delimitation of constituencies for elections (state assembly and Lok Sabha elections), qualifications of voters, and preparation of electoral rolls. It permits registration of persons in electoral rolls who are ordinarily resident in constituency. These persons include persons holding service qualification (such as member of armed forces, member of armed police force of state, serving outside state or central government employees posted outside India and  persons holding certain offices in India declared by President in consultation with Election Commission. Under it wives of such persons are also deemed to be ordinarily residing in India. RPA, 1951 provides for conduct of elections and offences and disputes related to elections. It permits an overseas voter to vote only in person. In this case overseas voter is citizen of India who is absent from his place of ordinary residence in India. Currently, only service personnel are permitted to vote through proxy.

Key Features of Bill

The Bill replaces the term ‘wife’ with ‘spouse’ in both Acts. It replaces wife with spouse of a person holding service qualification to vote. It amends RPA, 1951 to permit overseas voter to cast their vote in person or by proxy in constituency where elections are being conducted.

Significance

According to rough estimates, there are about 1 crore Indians settled abroad, of which 60 lakh may be within eligible voting age. By granting them proxy voting rights, overseas Indians will be able to exercise franchise during elections and also need not to spend foreign currency to come to India during elections. Moreover, this decision will also enable overseas Indian to considerably sway in election results, especially in states such as Punjab, Kerala and Gujarat where a number of expats hail from.

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