The union cabinet on Wednesday cleared a proposal to extend proxy voting to overseas Indians – a facility that is provided only to service personnel - by amending electoral laws, official sources said.
If the proposal is approved by Parliament, NRIs will be able to cast their votes through ''proxy'' in the assembly and Lok Sabha elections from overseas.
While NRIs and overseas Indians are free to cast their votes in constituencies where they are registered, according to the proposal, they would also be allowed to use the option of proxy, which as of now is only available to service personnel. But, for this, the Representation of the People Act needs to be amended to include proxy voting as other means to cast their votes.
The proxy facility for NRIs, however, will not be the same as is enjoyed by service personnel. While voters in the armed forces can nominate their relatives as permanent proxy to vote on their behalf, the proposed proxy voting by NRIs carries a caveat that they cannot nominate one proxy for all polls.
An expert committee in the Election Commission working on the issue had, in 2015, forwarded the legal framework to the law ministry to amend electoral laws to allow overseas Indians use proxy voting.
Data shows that only 10,000 to 12,000 NRIs have voted as currently, voters residing abroad can only cast their votes in their respective constituencies and this involved huge costs for them.
The government was earlier considering granting them postal voting rights similar to voters in the armed forces, who can receive ballot papers electronically and print them. Service voters mark their preference on ballot printouts and send them through post after verification by station officers for counting. However, this procedure was seen as too cumbersome to implement in case of NRIs who live all over the world. A team of ministers is still discussing this issue, and a final decision is awaited.
Estimates put the number of non-resident roughly at around 10 million of which nearly 6 lakh are of voting age. Allowed to vote, these voters could considerable sway election results in states like Punjab, Gujarat and Kerala, where the expat numbers are the maximum.
The move to grant proxy voting rights to overseas electors comes in the backdrop of the Supreme Court chiding the government whether it was concerned only with the foreign exchange that flows from expats.