Right to vote itself contains right to refrain from voting, feels the high court
GN Bureau | August 21, 2015
Gujarat government's notification issued last month making voting compulsory in civic body polls has been stayed by the high court.
In response to a petition filed by advocate KR Koshti questioning the provisions of making voting obligatory for all citizens, a bench headed by acting chief justice Jayant Patel admitted the case and stayed operation of notification of compulsory voting till final disposal of the case on Friday.
In a significant observation, the Gujarat high court bench stated that the right to vote itself contains right to refrain from voting.
Gujarat became the first state to make voting compulsory in local - municipal as well as panchayat polls after governor OP Kohli approved the Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2009.
It had been rejected by earlier governor Kamla Beniwal. She had rejected it on the ground that this provision of law was in violation of the Constitutional provisions, which guarantee freedom of expression including the right to vote or not to vote.
The law was passed in 2009 and again in 2011 when Narendra Modi was the chief minister. Finally, it got governor's nod last year.
Gujarat is scheduled to witness civil elections in 253 municipalities, 208 taluka panchayats, 26 district panchayats and six municipal corporations after a couple of months.
To give teeth to this newly elected law, the government imposed a penalty of Rs 100 on citizens who did not vote.
The notification under controversial Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment), Act 2009 (2014) was issued on July 17, 2015. He was to be applicable for over three crore voters expected to cast their franchise in civic elections in six municipal corporations. State has recorded 45-50 per cent voting in local bodies elections in the past. In 2010, six municipals corporations had recorded average voting of 44 per cent.
Following this notification, any citizen abstaining from voting in civic elections will be penalized — the punishment could be monetary fine or non-eligibility for certain civic incentives — which will be specified once the rules are framed, officials said.
Along with the compulsory voting notification, state government has also issued an ordinance for the addition of a clause the act for declaring the elected representatives disqualified if they do not vote.
"It will be duty of a citizen to vote in the local bodies elections. However, every citizen has the freedom to vote in favour of none of candidates contesting elections by pressing None Of The Above (NOTA) option."
In case of failure in voting the registered voter will be declared as the defaulter and against whom the designated authorities will take legal action as prescribed in the rules which will be declared shortly.
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