Compulsory voting not possible, reforms will continue: Sadananda Gowda

Gowda said though he appreciated the intention of the members, it would not be possible for the government to introduce compulsory voting and penalise those who failed to exercise their franchise.

PTI| Last Updated: Feb 26, 2016, 21:56 PM IST

New Delhi: Government on Friday promised to carry out electoral reforms but turned down a request for introduction of compulsory voting citing practical reasons.

"Electoral reform is the need of hour...Government is looking at it," Union Law Minister Sadananda Gowda said in the Lok Sabha while speaking on a discussion on a private member's bill on introduction of compulsory voting.

He said while initiating the electoral reforms, he would take into account the suggestions made by the members during discussion. The bill was later withdrawn by BJP member Janardan Singh Sigriwal who had moved it earlier.

Gowda said though he appreciated the intention of the members, it would not be possible for the government to introduce compulsory voting and penalise those who failed to exercise their franchise.

The entire judicial system would collapse if it is required to take action against 25 crore voters who do not exercise their right to vote, he said, adding that Election Commission has been taking steps like observing January 25 as the National Voters Day to encourage people to vote.

"Compulsory voting may infringe the rights of each individual voter. It should not be by coercion," he said, adding that it could go against democratic principles.

He cited several reports and views including a Law Commission report which do not favoured compulsory voting in India. The reports have suggested that compulsory voting was not possible and feasible for the country, he said.

It might be possible to have compulsory voting in small countries but not in India and "we have to find alternative ways to increase the voting percentage", he said, adding several countries like Fiji, Austria and Thailand have stopped enforcing compulsory voting.

"When such small countries could not implement it, how can a country like India do it? How would it be possible to implement...I would like to appeal to Janardan Singh that please withdraw the bill," Gowda said.

While withdrawing the bill, Sigriwal insisted that introduction of compulsory voting would strengthen democracy.

Participating in the discussion on the compulsory voting bill, Devendra Singh (BJP) said people criticised governments but did not exercise their voting rights. He suggested that Election Commission should focus on e-voting.

Opposing the bill, Saugata Roy (Trinamool Congress) said the punishments mentioned in the bill are coercive and "I am totally opposed to this bill. This bill goes against the basic principle of democracy ... Voting right is given to people and it should be on the people to exercise this right or not."

He said a similar bill was rejected earlier too and in a country like India, it would be difficult to implement.

Sunil Kumar Singh (BJP) supported the bill but said that stringent punishment should not be there.