Compulsory voting in Gujarat: revolutionary or unconstitutional

Compulsory voting in Gujarat: revolutionary or unconstitutional

The Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Bill 2009 which makes voting in local body elections compulsory has been approved by the State's Governor OP Kohli. The same Bill also provides for 50% reservation for women in all local body elections. After the Bill was approved by the Governor, the state government issued a notification for its enforcement. Hence Gujarat has become the first state in the country where voting in local body polls has been made mandatory.

When this bill was introduced for the first time in 2009, the then Chief Minister said that one of the purposes of this bill is to bring the citizen to the centre stage of politics. This bill is an attempt to tackle the low voter turnout. However, Senior Advocate Soli Sorabjee, in a TV interview said that the right to vote also includes the right not to vote. Further, the Constitution of India does not mandate compulsory voting. Forcing citizens to vote will make democracy more remote. This bill empowers the state government to take punitive action against those who do not vote in local body elections but does not specify the type of action that would be taken. The rules will specify further details in this regard.

The argument of the supporters of compulsory voting is that there are several other countries (22 to be specific and 11 implementing countries) with similar legislation and hence India could also implement the same. The arguments against it are whether there is a real choice for those citizens casting their vote? Further, the NOTA option is not available to local body elections. The Supreme Court judgment on NOTA only applies to State Assemblies and Parliament elections.

In its current form, the Bill is likely to be opposed by the Congress and may not withstand legal scrutiny. The opposition party has been in favour of 50% reservation for women in local bodies but it is against the compulsory voting provision which is included in the same bill. There are recommendations to separate these two provisions so that the 50% reservation for women may be retained.

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