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SC ballot boost for armed forces

Basic right

New Delhi, March 24: The Supreme Court today allowed defence personnel in “peace stations” to vote in constituencies where they are posted, saying “compulsions of their job” shouldn’t come in the way of a basic right.

Justices R.M. Lodha and Kurien Joseph questioned the Election Commission’s “rigid and technical” stand on a three-year residency rule before coming up with the directive that should benefit around 1.5 lakh armed forces personnel and their family members who are eligible to vote.

The order does not apply to those posted in disturbed areas like Jammu and Kashmir and in the Northeast as armed forces personnel in these regions might outnumber local voters at some places.

It wouldn’t also apply to some 13.6 lakh personnel who have already opted for “postal ballots” or “proxy voting”, according to senior counsel Meenakshi Arora who appeared for the Election Commission.

Under Section 20(8) of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1950, armed forces personnel can entrust the right of casting their vote to a friend/acquaintance at their original place.

The directive came on a public interest petition that sought a court order to facilitate voting rights of armed forces personnel and their family members at their places of posting. When the commission’s counsel said no special privilege could be given to armed forces personnel under existing rules — which say the personnel concerned have to be residents of an area for at least three years — the bench said there was no logic in such a stand.

The bench told the commission that while it was doing a “wonderful job” in bringing transparency to the electoral process, it shouldn’t “impede” armed forces personnel from casting their ballot.

“We don’t find any logic in the three-year period prescribed by you. What is so great about fixing a three-year period?” Justice Lodha, who was heading the bench, asked Arora. “Why should you adopt a stance that impedes the right to vote of these people? Why should you be so rigid and technical in your approach?”

The counsel said the poll panel was only following the rules and it was for Parliament to make suitable amendments but the bench wasn’t satisfied with the argument. “They (the personnel) are at the place (of their posting) not out of their choice but on account of their compulsions of their job. So why do you want to prevent them from casting their votes?” the bench asked.

Later, while posting the PIL for further consideration before a three-judge bench, the court passed the interim order that armed forces personnel posted at “peace stations” would be eligible to cast their votes at their place of posting along with their family members.

The court said the central government would take all measures to help the armed forces personnel to cast their votes through postal ballots without any difficulty.

The order will not apply in 225 constituencies where the process of registration has already commenced.