The ‘compulsory voting’ law passed by the BJP government in Gujarat legislative assembly has been stayed by the highest court in the state. Staying the implementation of the much debated legislation, Gujarat High Court strongly opined that the ‘right to vote’ itself provides right to refrain from voting and it cannot be turned into ‘duty of voting’.
The bill — The Gujarat Local Authorities (Amendment) Act 2009, making voting compulsory for all the citizens in civic bodies, was first mooted by the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Though it was passed by the state Assembly in 2009 but it could only become a law after the incumbent Governor OP Kohli signed it. The former Governor Dr. Kamla Beniwal had returned the bill on two occasions. The state government has now even notified a fine of Rs 100 on those who failed to vote.
As the issue came in for much debate, a plea was filed by advocate KR Koshti in the Gujarat High Court seeking stay of the law. Admitting the petition, the division bench of acting Chief Justice Jayant Patel and Justice NV Anjariya stayed implementation of compulsory voting.
The petitioner’s contention was that the right to vote is an expression of a citizen and whether to vote includes the right to not vote.
“The right to vote cannot be termed as the duty by the state and therefore, the provision of compulsory voting Act is violative of fundamental rights given to any citizen under the Indian Constitution,” the petitioner’s lawyer said before the bench.
Pressing the court to restrain the Gujarat government and the State Election Commission to implement the law, the petitioner also argued that state legislature does not have any legislative competence to enact a law regarding voting, as it comes under the purview of the Constitution and any such law can only be amended or enacted by Parliament.
The Gujarat Local Authorities (Amendment) Bill was first introduced and passed in December 2009 when the current PM Narendra Modi was Chief Minister of the state. But the bill was returned by the then Governor Dr. Kamla Beniwal in April 2010 with remarks that “forcing voter to vote is against the principles of an individual liberty”.
Returning the bill to the state government for reconsideration, Governor Beniwal had further added,
“The present Bill violates the freedom which a citizen is entitled to enjoy under Article 21 of the Constitution”.
The legislation, however, was again passed by the BJP-ruled state government on December 28, 2011 in the Gujarat Assembly but it couldn’t go past the Governor’s nod.
The things changed in November 2014, after Mr. OP Kohli took over as the state Governor.
(With inputs from the PTI)