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MPs panel discuss pros and cons of proxy voting for migrant workers

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MPs panel discuss pros and cons of proxy voting for migrant workers
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New Delhi: The facility of proxy voting, which is meant to make it easier for NRIs to exercise their franchise, can also be offered to others who do not live in Kerala, as both are ways to save the voters' travel costs and time, said members of Parliament during a consultative meeting on Tuesday, according to news sources.

The Parliamentary panel on External Affairs headed by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor has been conducting sittings on this and other matters related to voting facility for non-residents.

The MEA Secretary (Economic Relations) Vijay Keshav Gokhale and Secretary, Legislative Department, G. Narayana Raju briefed the commintte on "Voting rights to NRI's".

The Cabinet in August last year had cleared an amendment to the Representation of the People Act, which allows NRIs to vote by proxy, a facility hitherto available only to armed personnel and certain officers notified by the Election Commission.

“What is the justification to allow proxy voting for NRIs? The government claims it is too expensive for them to come and vote in India. Going by this very logic what about migrant workers? Where do they find time and money to come back home to vote,” one of the MPs who attended the meeting said.

According to him, the government did not have a clear reply. “They simply evaded the question by saying that it does not cost the same to travel within India compared to flying in from abroad. The explanation is not very convincing. Everyone should get an equal opportunity,” the MP added.

According to sources, except for one BJP MP all others on the panel were unanimous in their opinion that proxy voting can be easily misused. An Opposition MP said that proxy voting is open to manipulation and that the government should have explored a technically sounder way to get NRIs to vote. "If money can be transferred online then why not votes. They need to find a more robust mechanism," he said.

The panel members also asked how the requirement of secret ballot can be fulfilled in proxy voting. But there were clearly divergent views on the matter. “When the government is promoting e-banking then why not have e-voting. If e-banking is safe then e-voting too should be,” another MP said.

Data shows that only 10,000 to 12,000 NRIs have voted because they do not want to spend foreign currency to come to India for this purpose.

Incidentally, the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill 2017 was not referred to any standing committee.

It was introduced in the Lok Sabha in the recently concluded winter session and has not yet been debated on.

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