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Ensuring the right to vote of the migrants

Ensuring the right to vote of the migrants

UPSC CSE Mains Syllabus: GS-2- Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.

India’s gaze has, for the first time, been turned towards the “migrant labourer”. They have suffered to a larger extent in this lockdown.

For Indian democracy to learn the right lessons from the plight that a sudden lockdown caused this vast section of Indians, one crucial element must surely be to secure to them the right and facility to vote.

Their voting trends: 

  • Migrant workers become quasi-disenfranchised, forgotten votersbecause they cannot afford to return home on Election Day to choose their representatives.  
  • The callous attitude toward the plight of migrantsexhibited by some State governments leads to the conclusion that this group does not constitute a vote bank worthy of attention. 
  • Internal migrant workers do not enrol as voters in their place of employment since they find proof of residence hard to provide. 
  • Many are seasonal migrantswho would rather vote in their villages if they could afford to return home.  
  • Since they do not have a vote where they work, their concerns are easy to ignore in their host State. 
  • Sometimes, they are targeted for allegedly taking jobs away from the local population.
  • Most migrant voters have voter cards for their home constituency. A 2012 study showed that 78 per cent of migrant labourers surveyed possessed voter ID cards and had names on voters lists in their home cities. Economic constraints disable a majority of them from voting as they cannot, in the midst of harsh work cycles, commute to their home states on the polling day. One survey shows that only 48 per cent of those surveyed voted in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, when the national average was 59.7 per cent. These patterns have stayed consistent. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, major sender states such as Bihar and UP had among the lowest voter turnout rates at 57.33 per cent and 59.21 per cent respectively, while the national average was 67.4 per cent.

Portability in our system: 

  • Service voters (government employees) posted away from home can vote through the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS). 
  • Classified service voters(e.g., military personnel) can do so through their proxies. The ECI has said that it is testing an Aadhaar-linked voter-ID based solution to enable electors to cast their votes digitally from anywhere in the country.  
  • It will be some time in the future before this becomes a functional reality. 
  • While developing this solution, we must ensure that the linkage with Aadhaar does not result in the exclusion of eligible individuals.

Including migrants with in it: 

  • To facilitate voting by migrant workers, the ECIcould undertake substantial outreach measures using the network of District Collectorates.  
  • Migrantsshould be able to physically vote in their city of work based on the address on their existing voter IDs and duration of their temporary stay.  
  • In an age where banking transactions have gone online seamlessly, it is technologically feasible to record and transfer votes to their respective constituencies without compromising on the credibility of the election process.
  • The COVID-19 crisis mobilised governments and non-governmental organisations to set up registers and portals to reach out to migrant workers. 
  • A ‘One Nation One Ration Card’is being ushered in to enable migrant workers and their family members to access Public Distribution System benefits from any fair price shop in the country.  
  • Similarly, voting must be viewed not just as a civic duty but as a civic right. 
  • We must demonstrate the political will to usher in ‘One Nation One Voter ID,’to ensure native ballot portability and empower the forgotten migrant voter.  
  • Once migrant workers get to exercise their franchise, we expect that we will see a change in how they are treated.
  • Ensuring that every Indian who is eligible to vote can do so must be a central mission for the ECI. 
  • It is a matter of pride that India currently has over 05 crore registered voters and in the 2019 general election, a record 67.4%, i.e., 61.36 crore voters, cast their vote.
  • The ECI would do well to focus attention on the one-third, a substantial 29.68 crore, who did not cast their vote. 

Way forward: 

  • In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Election Commission of India(ECI) has made it possible for senior citizens above the age of 65 to vote by postal ballot, given that they are at greater risk from exposure to the novel coronavirus.  
  • Hitherto, this option was available only to disabled citizens and those above 80 years. 
  • Well-thought-out initiatives that facilitate voting and remove obstacles to voters exercising their franchise must be welcomed. 
  • The same empowering approachbe extended to another group which faces enormous difficulties in exercising its franchise: migrant workers. 
  • The ECI has under Section 60(c) of the RP Act the power to notify a certain class of persons to vote via postal ballot.
  • The ECI’s much proclaimed mission to ensure “no voters are left behind” has resulted in attempts to ensure a secure system of postal ballots.
  • In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, more than 28 lakh votes were received via postal ballots. The Indian migrant worker deserves the secured right to have access to vote through a similar system.
  • The Supreme Court has interpreted the right to vote as an extension of the fundamental right of the freedom of expression.
  • This brings with it a positive obligation on the ECI to ensure optimal conditions for the exercise of this freedom.

Ensuring this fundamental freedom to the Indian migrant worker, regardless of caste, gender, creed, ethnicity or faith, therefore, is a constitutional obligation of the ECI. The failure to ensure that this “class of Indians” is legitimately allowed to exercise its franchise is tantamount to invisibilising their security, dignity and overall well-being from the political discourse of the country.

Ambedkar’s prescience on right to vote for “Untouchables” bears note. He had observed that, “the right of representation and the right to hold office under the State are the two most important rights that make up citizenship”. India would do well to extend this vision to a long invisibilised section of Indians to ensure that they, too, are educated into political life.

Source:”Indian Express/The Hindu”

POSSIBLE UPSC CSE MAINS QUESTION:

The right of representation and the right to hold office under the State are the two most important rights that make up citizenship. In this regard, discuss the difficulties faced by the migrants in exhibiting their voting rights. What could be done to ensure their full participation?