M A I N   N E W S

A Tribune Exclusive
NRIs to get voting rights soon
Draft Bill ready
Swati Chaturvedi

New Delhi, June 11
Crores of non-resident Indians (NRIs) across the world will soon have the right to vote with the Department of Personnel and Training and the Law Ministry having prepared a Draft Bill to this effect.

This will entail the amendment of Section 20 of the Representation of the People Act,1950, which gives a meaning of “ordinarily resident”. The section describes an ‘‘ordinarily resident’’ as someone who resides in that constituency. This will now be changed to “a person who has left the country and gone to any part of the world for the purposes of job, education or anything else and will also be considered a voter for all practical purposes.”

Sources say the move was initiated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after the government received thousands of representations from the NRI diaspora. Some of those representations and a copy of the Draft Bill are available with The Tribune.

The Bill was discussed last week at the consultative committee and got an overwhelming support from MPs. The Bill is expected to be tabled in the monsoon session of Parliament.

A Congress MP, Mr Rashid Alvi, told The Tribune that there was a rare unanimity in the committee with all members saying the Bill should be passed. ‘‘The Indian diaspora is making us proud. They are India’s brand ambassadors and surely in this day and age they should be allowed to participate in our elections,’’ he said.

This will come as good news for NRIs who at every Parvasi Bharatiya Divas have been asking that while they are allowed to invest in India why are they denied their basic right in a democracy to vote. The system by which the NRIs can exercise this, will be worked out with the Election Commission but, the sources say, a system of postal ballot will be the logical option.

Senior BJP leaders who are wary of opposing the Bill publicly say the Congress will derive electoral mileage from the Bill by getting the support of the influential NRI community. They claim that they identified the NRI vote-bank but, with this move coming as it does with the UPA in power, the credit will go to the Congress. Says a senior BJP leader: ‘‘It will not hurt Dr Singh in his native state and may just earn him a dividend.’’

According to estimates, the NRI community in the USA generates an annual income of $ 160 billion and the NRI community in the UK generates over £ 100 billion per annum.

They are considered model communities in their adopted countries.

For instance, in the USA, the average income of an NRI is twice the national average. It is precisely this constituency that the government wants to tap by allowing them to stay rooted in India.

— The writer is an anchor with Janmat TV


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