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Indian Polity

Right to Vote for NRIs

  • 07 Dec 2020
  • 7 min read

Why in News

Recently, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has informed the Ministry of Law and Justice that it is “technically and administratively ready” to extend the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) to Non Resident Indian (NRI) voters for elections next year in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

Key Points

  • Background:
    • The ECI started to look for possible options after receiving several requests from MPs, industrialists, ministers and also writ petitions by NRIs in the Supreme Court (SC) in 2013 and 2014.
    • After the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, a 12-member committee was set up to study mainly three options of:
      • Voting by post.
      • Voting at an Indian mission abroad.
      • Online voting.
    • The committee ruled out online polling as it felt this could compromise “secrecy of voting” and also shot down the proposal to vote at Indian missions abroad as they do not have adequate resources.
    • In 2015, the panel finally recommended that NRIs should be given the “additional alternative options of e-postal ballot and proxy voting”, apart from voting in person.
      • Under proxy voting, a registered elector can delegate his voting power to a representative.
      • At present, postal ballots are allowed for certain categories of voters (Service Voters) living in India, which include:
        • Members of the Armed Forces.
        • Members of the Armed Police Force of a State, serving outside that State.
        • Persons employed under Government of India on post outside India.
    • In 2017, the Union Cabinet passed the proposal on proxy voting rights for NRIs and brought a Bill amending the Representation of the People Act 1950.
    • However, the bill lapsed in Rajya Sabha due to dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha and the proposal has not been revived yet.
      • The ECI pushed only for postal voting rights for NRIs instead of the proxy voting.
      • To extend the postal voting facility to overseas voters, the government only needs to amend the Conduct of Election Rules 1961. It does not require Parliament’s nod.
  • Current Voting Process for NRIs:
    • Voting rights for NRIs were introduced only in 2011, through an amendment to the Representation of the People Act 1950.
    • An NRI can vote in the constituency in his/her place of residence, as mentioned in the passport, is located.
    • He/She can only vote in person and will have to produce her passport in original at the polling station for establishing identity.
  • Current Strength of NRI Voters:
    • According to a United Nations report of 2015, India’s diaspora population is the largest in the world at 16 million people.
    • However, registration of NRI voters has been very low with a little over one lakh overseas Indians registered as voters in India.
    • In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, roughly 25,000 of them flew to India to vote.
  • Process of Voting by Postal Ballots:
    • Any NRI interested in voting through the postal ballot will have to inform the Returning Officer (RO) not later than five days after the notification of the election.
      • The RO of a parliamentary or assembly constituency is responsible for the conduct of elections in the parliamentary or assembly constituency.
    • 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.
    • However, it is not clear right now, 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.
  • Political Stand:
    • The committee had consulted national political parties and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on the options being considered for NRIs to cast their vote abroad.
    • Among parties, only the NCP has expressed complete support and according to the BSP, BJP and CPI, postal ballots were not a viable option due to time constraint. The Congress was not in favour of sending the postal ballot paper electronically.
    • The MEA expressed strong reservations over attesting the declaration as the process might be difficult in non-democratic countries.

Non Resident Indian

  • According to India’s Foreign Exchange Management Act 1999 (FEMA), NRI is an Indian citizen or Foreign National of Indian Origin residing outside India for purposes of employment, carrying on business or vocation in circumstances as would indicate an intention to stay outside India for an indefinite period.
  • Visiting NRIs whose total income (which is defined as taxable income) in India is up to Rs. 15 lakh during the financial year will continue to remain NRIs if the stay does not exceed 181 days.
    • The Union Budget 2020 proposed to reduce this period to 120 days for all NRIs.


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