Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Non-Resident Indians


The Government of India,
New Delhi.

Dear Sir/Madam,

Re: Allowing Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) to vote in the general elections.

We, the Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), are Indian citizens over the age of eighteen and are living in different parts of the world.

We strongly believe that it is our legitimate right to be able to vote in the general elections in the country. This is because we feel that being Indian citizens, we have the right to remain stakeholders in the system of governance and polity in our country, regardless of where we physically live and/or work. It is needless to add that, we as non-resident Indians, have our interests and stake as much in our country's welfare and progress as any citizen who is territorially and/or physically present in the country. Likewise, any political or non-political event of any significance that happens in our country touches our lives and impacts us as much as it does our fellow countrymen back home. We, therefore, sincerely urge your office to take up our cause and ensure that we are able to vote in the general elections in India.

Currently, Section 20 of the Representation of the People Act, 1950, disqualifies a non-resident Indian (NRI) from getting his/her name registered in the electoral rolls. It consequently prevents a non-resident Indian from casting his/her vote in elections to the Parliament and to the State Legislatures. The Representation of the People (Amendment) 2006 Bill was introduced in the Parliament, on the 17th of February 2006, with the objective of amending Section 20 of the Representation of the People Act, 1950 in order to enable NRIs to vote. The said Bill was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice for examination on the 27th of March 2006. The Parliamentary Standing Committee, which presented its Report to the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha on the 4th of August 2006, while agreeing with the letter and spirit of the amendment, further, made the following observations:

1. There has been a recent trend the world over by various countries, whose citizens are residing in other countries, as regards the need to acknowledge the existence of their citizens and to protect their interests in the country of their origin. In the process they have gone to the extent of protecting their social, economic, cultural and political rights.

2. Indians living abroad take keen interest in the affairs of the country and are participating in the nation building through various methods and are also helping in mobilization of the resources for the country.

3. Section 20 of the Representation of the People Act, 1950 already contains a number of exemptions to the term ordinarily resident. It would be more appropriate if all the exemptions were provided at a single place in a single exemption clause.

4. Wording of the proposed amendment Bill would sound better in the following words: A citizen of India, who has not acquired the citizenship of any other country, shall be deemed to be resident in India in any constituency of his choice notwithstanding his residence outside India whatever its duration.

5. It is proposed to insist for the passport and the permanent address in India shown in the passport as the condition to identify the constituency where the person concerned could get himself enrolled in the voter's list.

6. The Committee would like the Ministry to explore various modes/options available in order to achieve the purpose for which the Bill is intended i.e. enabling the NRIs to participate in the democratic process of the country in a meaningful manner.

Despite the report submitted by the honourable Committee over two years ago, the Government has, unfortunately, failed to act on the recommendations so far. The Bill was introduced in the last budget session of the Parliament to the Lok Sabha. Sadly, however, there was no action taken once again.

Prathap G., Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (A probable candidate for the next general elections in India).

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