Citizens have no right to refrain from voting: government to court

January 28th, 2009 - 9:40 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 28 (IANS) The government Wednesday informed the Supreme Court that Indian citizens have no “statutory right to refrain from voting”.Additional Solicitor General Amrendra Saran made this assertion before a bench of Justice B.N. Agrawal and Justice G.S. Singhvi hearing a lawsuit seeking provision of a ‘none-of-the-above’ (NOTA) option in the ballot papers or electronic voting machines to enable voters to cast a “negative vote”, rejecting all candidates.

“There is no statutory right for voters to refrain from voting,” asserted Saran.

“By no stretch of imagination, the expression ‘voting’ (in the relevant section of the electoral laws conferring the right to vote) will include the right to abstain from voting or non-voting.”

The law officer made the assertion while arguing against a 2004 lawsuit filed by People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), seeking a negative voting option.

The lawsuit has also got the support of the Election Commission, which has been for long seeking to enable voters to cast their negative votes.

Discarding the demand for the provision of negative voting, the law officer quoted the 2001-02 recommendations of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC), headed by former chief justice of India M.N. Venkatachalliah, which too had had rejected the concept.

Quoting the NCRWC recommendations, Saran said: “The proposal besides being negative in character, would be hardly easy for the largely illiterate Indian electorate to understand the concept of negative voting.”

The law officer also pointed out to the court that India has the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system of voting where the candidate polling largest number of votes, irrespective of the total percentage of the votes cast, wins the election.

Owing to the FPTP system, the provision of negative voting may lead to a situation where a candidate polling only one vote may win the election in case all, but one, voters of a constituency exercise negative voting.

“That’s democracy,” remarked the bench, responding to the law officer’s argument.

The bench would continue hearing the arguments Thursday, when Election Commission counsel Meenakshi Arora is expected to open her arguments.

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