New Delhi: More than 11 million NRIs and 20 lakh defence and paramilitary personnel will soon be enrolled in electoral rolls with the government on Wednesday setting the ball rolling for exploring ways for facilitating electronic voting for them.
During a high-level meeting chaired Home Minister Rajnath Singh and attended among others by Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, the issue was discussed threadbare as to how to facilitate e-voting facility to NRI, defence, paramilitary and police personnel as directed by the Supreme Court.
Official sources said the option of sending ballot papers to services voters or uploading it in Election Commission websites was discussed.
However, the option of electronically sending the ballot to services voters or NRI voters after casting the vote is unlikely to be accepted as the secrecy of election will not be maintained at the receiving end, sources said.
But, sources said, the meeting considered the option of sending the ballot paper after casting the vote through courier. At present, the facility of postal ballot is available for services voters but it is considered to be time- consuming.
One of the options considered was sending ballot papers to services voters and NRIs electronically which could be filled and sent through a courier, the sources said.
It was felt that from the time of the last date of withdrawal of candidature to vote counting date, at least a fortnight is always available and a services voter or a NRI voter can courier his or her vote within that period, the sources said.
Sources said the meeting decided to find IT solution for safe and secure mode for sending votes.
Others who attended the meeting were Minister for Road Transport and Highways and Shipping Nitin Gadkari, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, Minister of Communications and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad, Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth, Defence Secretary R K Mathur, Home Secretary Anil Goswami and representatives of Election Commission.
On Monday, the Supreme Court had directed the central government to facilitate e-voting by NRI within eight weeks.
The government told the apex court that it has approved e-ballot voting for Indian passport holders abroad, recommended by the Election Commission in a report, and it would have the process in place after amending laws.
E-ballot voting should be allowed "at the earliest," the Supreme Court told the Centre, in heartening news for an estimated 11 million NRIs across the world.
In e-ballot voting, a blank postal ballot paper is emailed to the voter who has to then fill it and mail it by post to their constituency.
Allowing NRIs to vote abroad is likely to make an impact in states like Kerala which has 40 lakh people abroad and votes next year for a new government.
But the government is opposed to the idea of allowing defence personnel and all those covered under the Army Act to cast their votes at the constituency of their posting.
The Supreme Court interim order had asked the Election Commission to allow defence personnel in peace stations to get registered as voters in constituency of their posting.
"We are going to file an affidavit in the Supreme Court stating that besides postal ballot and proxy voting, we plan to introduce e-voting for defence personnel. This would be on the lines of an EC committee favouring e voting for overseas voters," a senior government functionary said after the meeting.
But the government still feels that allowing defence personnel to cast their votes at the constituency of their posting is not feasible because of strategic factors and other complexities.
"Allowing servicemen to cast their vote at the place of their current posting also involves the issue of security. If they exercise their voting right at the place of their posting, it could give out details of their deployment," he said explaining the hesitation.
He claimed that granting such a right could also mean that in a forward area where soldiers outnumber local residents, the armed forces would be the deciding factor over the locals in the victory of a candidate.
"As it is, their right to vote is protected. Defence personnel can take leave and cast their vote at the place where they are registered as voters. They can also use postal ballot. They are the only ones allowed 'proxy voting', by which they can authorise their next of kin to vote on their behalf for the candidate of their choice. It is mentioned in Section 20 of the Representation of the People Act, 1950," he said.
But the government agrees that there is a need to streamline the system of postal ballots as servicemen have often complained that they fail to get the ballot on time, denying them the opportunity to exercise their democratic right.
The apex court had in its March 24 order opened the doors for defence personnel in peace stations to get registered as voters in constituency of their posting and pulled up the Election Commission for its "rigid stand" which was coming in the way of "right to vote of service personnel".