Paid holiday for Karnataka voters raises questions
Notwithstanding the defence that the Goa government put up about its decision to grant a paid holiday to voters of Karnataka working in the state, to proceed to their hometowns and vote, there are many questions that arise.
The Goa government maintained that this was done at the request of the Chief Electoral Office of Karnataka and that there are precedents for this, with other states declaring such paid holidays to voters of neighbouring states to vote in their home towns. But if one checks the website of the Chief Election Commission, there are certain points that can be raised.
There are three categories of voters, but what interests us are those classified as general electors. According to the FAQs on the website, “every Indian citizen who has attained the age of 18 years on the qualifying date ie first day of January of the year of revision of electoral roll, unless otherwise disqualified, is eligible to be registered as a voter in the roll of the part/polling area of the constituency where he is ordinarily resident.” The keywords here would be “ordinarily resident” for the purpose of the current discussion.
To further understand this, one has to differentiate a general voter from an overseas voter. According to the provisions of Sec 20A of the Representation of People Act, 1950, and by the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 2010, a person who is a citizen of India; who has not acquired the citizenship of any other country; is otherwise eligible to be registered as a voter; and who is absent from his place of ordinary residence in India owing to his employment, education or otherwise, is eligible to be registered as a voter in the constituency in which his place of residence in India, as mentioned in his passport, is located.
To be enrolled, one has to produce documentary proof of residence along with Form 6. Besides, it is the task of the booth level officer to verify that the voter is indeed staying at the address that has been given.
As per the Manual on Electoral Roll that is also available on the ECI website “The Booth Level Officer will make a thorough study of the roll of the part assigned to him. He will make frequent field visits to the villages/tolas in the said part and interact with local people, particularly, village elders and grass root level elected representatives and identify the names of the dead/shifted/duplicate voters in the roll, which need to be removed by the Electoral Registration Officer under relevant provisions of law.”
How, then, is a person residing in a different state verified as a voter residing in the native state?
Section 20(7) of the Representation of the People Act, 1950, provides that the electoral registration officer shall determine the question as to where a person is an ordinary resident at any relevant time.
The Manual on Electoral Roll further states that on the interpretation of rulings of the courts, the Election Commission has clarified that to determine ordinary residence “such a person need not be eating in that place but he should be sleeping regularly at that place.”
There are certain exemptions for persons holding declared offices or service voters. Students staying in a hostel away from their native place have the option of registering at their native place along with their parents or at the place where they are studying.
The ECI website is also quite clear that a person “cannot be enrolled as a voter at more than one place in view of the provisions contained in Sections 17 and 18 of Representation of People Act, 1950. Likewise, no person can be enrolled as an elector more than once in any electoral roll.”
The manual concludes that “Generally speaking, a person should not be enrolled at an address where he is staying temporarily; and on the other hand, he is to be enrolled at the normal place of residence even though he may be temporarily absent from there.”
The question that remains unanswered is whether a person working in another state and residing there is a temporary resident of that place.
There may be some voters who are temporarily residing in another state, but there are also others who may have migrated from their home town years ago but still return to their villages to vote.
How do they get adequate representation? Are they constituents of the constituency where they live and don’t vote, or are they constituents of their home town where they vote? This definitely needs an answer.