Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury said on Tuesday that the Election Commission’s proposal to provide postal ballot facilities to overseas voters can result in large-scale manipulation of votes, the Hindustan Times reported.
“In the Gulf countries especially, many Indians are taken by managers who even impound their passports,” Yechury told the Hindustan Times. “The people working there will be under immense pressure, their postal ballots can easily be manipulated and sold for profit.”
The general secretary also suggested that the Election Commission could set up polling stations in their missions abroad similar to other countries. “The practice is followed world over and this way a free and fair exercise of one’s voting rights can be ensured,” he said. “Diplomats, businessmen who come to India from abroad often use this means to cast their vote.”
Yechury made the comments in reference to the poll panel’s proposal sent to the law ministry on November 27 to expedite an amendment to the People’s Representation Act. The amendment will allow non-resident Indians to vote remotely using the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (EPTBS) in the upcoming polls. The amendments, if approved, will not require the nod of Parliament.
Talking to the Hindustan Times, Yechury said the matter of providing non-resident Indians the ability to vote remotely was first raised in 2014 but it was not feasible. The Bharatiya Janata Party introduced the bill in Lok Sabha but it did not pass in Rajya Sabha.
Yechury claimed that the Election Commission was bypassing its process of consulting political parties before making such important decisions. “Increasingly, decisions are being taken without consultation [of political parties],” he said. “The same happened when it came to expanding the ambit of postal ballots during the Bihar elections, a decision that the EC eventually did not implement.”
Currently, voters outside of India can only cast their votes in their respective constituencies. The amendment seeks overseas voters to send an intimation to the Returning Officer within five days of the election in their constituencies. The Returning Officer can then issue a postal ballot paper to the elector.
There are over 1.26 crore NRIs, who have an Indian passport but live outside the country, according to government data. The amendment, if approved, could make a significant difference in the states which has a large share of their population living overseas such as Punjab, Gujarat, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.