The Representation of People Act, 1950 (RP Act) was amended in the year 2010 to make special provisions for Indian Citizens living abroad to get enrolled as a voter. Ever since, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has been trying to promote voter registration among NRIs.
Data released by the ECI paints a very grim picture of the interest among NRIs. Of the more than 3.12 crore NRIs, only 24507 have registered as voters as per the latest electoral roll published by the ECI in early 2018, which is less than 0.1%.
History of NRI Voting rights
Following demands from various NRI groups, the provisions of the RP act were amended in the year 2010. This amendment inserted a new section 20A to enable NRIs (citizens of India residing outside India) to get enrolled as a voter.
It is to be noted that the NRIs should not have acquired citizenship of any other country. All such eligible ones can register in their place of residence in India.
This amendment was followed by change of rules that defined procedures for NRIs to get enrolled. NRIs can register themselves online on the National Voters’ Service Portal (NVSP).
In addition to other details, they are supposed to submit the details of their passport & VISA of the country they are living in.
Hardly any improvement in 7 years
The ECI started publishing data on NRI (Overseas) voters from the year 2012. As per the 2012 data, a total of 10002 were registered as NRI voters. This number increased to only 24507 in 2018.
Of the 24507 registered as per the 2018 roll published by the ECI, only 1942 are women (less than 10%) while the rest are men. While it looks like the number of such NRI voters has more than doubled in 7 years, it is a minuscule number compared to the total number of NRIs.
As per the data published by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), more than 3.12 crore NRIs are living in various parts of the world. Compared to this number, the number of registered NRI voters is less than 0.1%, in fact less than 1 registered for every 1200 NRIs.
More than 96% of the registered from Kerala
Of the various states where the NRIs are registered, Kerala has led right from the year 2012. Out of the 10002 registered in 2012, 9838 were registered in Kerala. All the other states/UTs together accounted for only 164.
In other words, more than 98% of the NRIs who registered themselves as voters in India in 2012 had done so in Kerala. As of 2018, a total of 23610 NRIs registered in Kerala compared to 897 who registered in the rest of India.
Even as of 2018, NRI voters registered in Kerala accounted for more than 96% of all the NRI voters. As of 2018, Punjab & Puducherry are the only two other states where more than 100 NRI voters registered.
Is this an awareness issue?
The low registration could be a result of multiple issues. Though the ECI has undertaken multiple awareness campaigns, they do not seem to have reached everybody.
In addition, the cumbersome process could be another reason for lower registration. But the real issue could be the the voting methods available for such registered voters.
As on date, the only way NRIs can actually vote is to be physically present during elections. A committee setup by the ECI had recommended proxy voting as a possible option of all the options explored by them.
The Government had introduced an amendment to the RP act in December 2017, in the Lok Sabha, to enable such proxy voting. The amendment is yet to be passed by the Parliament. How the government plans to enable proxy voting on ground without allowing any misuse remains unanswered.>