By Soni Mishra

On January 12, the Supreme Court allowed non-resident Indians to vote through a postal e-ballot system. Nagender Chindam, 33, an IT professional from Secunderabad who now lives in London, was at the forefront of a campaign to demand e-ballot rights for NRIs and was, along with another NRI, Shamsher V P, a petitioner in the apex court in this regard.

The exultation is warranted. After all, the electorate involved is the size of Greece – one crore NRIs would now be able to vote in Indian elections. The e-postal ballot could set in motion a process that may finally provide the rest of us the option of using our computers and phones to vote.

To use the e-postal ballot, NRIs would need their passport number and, once registered, they would get the downloadable ballot paper on their computer. They can then mark their choice and post it to the returning officer. And, if it is extended to sections such as service personnel or officials on election duty, their registration, login and verification will be linked to their Aadhaar number.

The pace at which things moved was commendable. Even Chindam was surprised. When the Supreme Court, hearing the petition of the NRIs, asked the Election Commission if it was possible to give them an internet-based solution, the commission said “Yes, we can!”

About two years ago, long before it was asked to do so, the commission had begun exploring the option. And, as luck would have it, the commission got on board the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), which, at the time, was also working on such a project.

“Ten million NRIs demand this. Therefore, we have to design various ways to bring them into our fold,” said chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi. Currently, NRIs have voting rights, but they are required to travel to their constituencies and vote. Not surprisingly, very few exercise their franchise.

“That we will be able to vote in the elections from wherever we are means a lot to people like me. We may be living abroad, but what happens back home still matters a lot to us and we want to have a say in it,” said Chindam.

A few years ago, he began researching absentee ballot policies of other countries and discussed it with other NRIs. He had to start from scratch by gathering data, spreading information, creating a website and writing online petitions. Eventually, like-minded people joined him, and they petitioned the Supreme Court. Interestingly, Chindam’s was the first case on NRI voting that the Supreme Court accepted. The ball was set rolling.

Meanwhile, C-DAC has already prepared a prototype for the e-postal ballot. Another prototype, which will allow NRIs to vote online, is in the advanced stages of development. C-DAC director general Rajat Moona said it took just three months for the organisation to develop the prototype. “We are going to test the prototype using our normal testing mechanisms, which will involve a lot of people… It is not going to be five, 10 or a hundred votes,” he said.

The commission says it needs only two months to establish the e-postal ballot system once the necessary amendments are made in the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and the Information Technology Act, 2000. It has contacted the law ministry and has proposed some legal amendments.

Courtesy: The Week


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