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Court stirs no-vote debate

New Delhi, Jan. 24: The vote-for-none option floated ahead of last May's general elections sprung back to life today with the poll panel rooting for it in court and the Supreme Court asking for documents on countries that have adopted it so that it can form an opinion.

In an affidavit filed in response to a People's Union for Civil Liberties PIL, the Election Commission said it preferred a 'none of the above' option in ballot papers/EVMs which would give voters the right to reject all candidates fighting an election.

Last February, chief election commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy had proposed that the 'negative voting' option should be introduced in the interests of democracy and to nip voter sentiment that some candidate or the other had to be voted because there was no alternative.

Today, the poll panel suggested an amendment to electoral laws be brought in Parliament to incorporate the right to vote for none.

The panel said it had made the proposal to the government as far back as December 10, 2001, in a letter to the law ministry. The same position was 'reiterated' on July 5, 2004, in another letter but there had been no response.

A division bench of Chief Justice of India R.C. Lahoti and Justice G.P. Mathur heard the affidavit. Saying an important matter had been raised, it issued notices to attorney-general Milon K. Banerjee seeking his reply in four weeks.

The court's notices have revived an issue that political parties were lukewarm to last year. However, the people were all for it: an overwhelming 77 per cent respondents interviewed as part of The Telegraph-TNS Mode opinion poll last March had sounded a resounding aye for none.

In its affidavit, the poll panel said the 'clauses of the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are matters of records and do not call for a reply', indicating it encouraged negative voting.

Unless 'there is a specific provision inserted in the statute governing the elections', the court cannot exercise its powers under Article 142 to direct that 'ballot papers and voting machines should provide for negative voting', it pointed out.

It said negative voting would be in the 'interest of promoting democracy' as it would send 'clear signals to the political parties and their candidates as to what the electorate thinks about them'.

It would also help reduce bogus voting. 'In the existing system, a dissatisfied voter does not turn up for voting and this provides a chance to unscrupulous elements to impersonate him and cast vote in his name,' the panel said.

'Such menace could be eliminated if the elector casts his vote, be it a negative one.'

The PIL by the PUCL had contended that in the prevailing system a person who did not want to vote any candidate had to inform the returning officer, who would then put his name and address in a register. This 'violated the code of secret ballot', it said.

The hearing will resume after four weeks, by which time the Bihar, Jharkhand and Haryana elections will be over.

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