Making voting compulsory is not practical, govt. says in Lok Sabha

Voting is a right, not a compulsory duty, says Minister of State for Law and Justice SP Singh Baghel.

Voting is a right, not a compulsory duty, says Minister of State for Law and Justice SP Singh Baghel.

The government on Friday said in the Lok Sabha that compulsory voting by citizens was an “impractical idea” and may also be open to legal challenges, as voting was a right and not a compulsory duty.

Minister of State for Law and Justice SP Singh Baghel said this while responding to a three-year-long debate on a private member’s Bill, the Compulsory Voting Bill, 2019, moved by BJP MP Janardan Sigriwal. Mr. Baghel said that the Bill’s prescriptions on how to make voting compulsory — suggestions such as the Election Commission making an authentic list of those who skipped voting, to impose a fine of ₹500 on those who did not vote — were not only impractical but would also lead to other problems. “To ask, say a daily laborer to cough up a fine of ₹500 for not voting would be terrible, as would having an authentic list of those who skipped. Many candidates who have muscle power, and would possibly have been promised votes by a particular person may find this a convenient list to settle scores after the polls,” said the Minister.

He also said that many countries that had compulsory voting had reversed their decisions for such reasons. “Even the Law Commission of India has found that this is not an idea that needs to be encouraged,” he said. He added that compulsory voting was in a sense against democratic norms. “Democracy is about government for the people, by the people and of the people, you cannot punish the people for not voting,” he said.

Instead, he said, India had already provided a practical way by which people could be encouraged to vote. “In the 2009 General Election, when Dr. Manmohan Singh was re-elected Prime Minister, the voting percentage was 58.19% while in 2014, when Modiji was declared the prime ministerial candidate of the NDA, the enthusiasm was such that the polling percentage went up to 66% and in 2019, to re – elect him, the percentage went up further to 67.40%,” he said. “It shows that people will vote when they feel there is some hope from the political leadership that their long-standing problems would be solved,” he said.

He added that he was hopeful that with enough technological advances, just as one nation one ration card was being implemented, migrant workers from various states could register their votes at their place of work itself instead of having to travel back to their constituencies. “People should be encouraged to vote, and only hope in political leadership, ease of registration and going to polling booths etc., can do that,” he said.

Mr. Sigriwal later withdrew the Bill, after the intervention by Mr. Baghel.

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