IAF chief last voted 10 years ago

August 19th, 2008 - 12:08 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 19 (IANS) Indian Air Force (IAF) chief Air Chief Marshal Fali H. Major has not been able to vote for the last 10 years because, like most people in the armed forces, he has not been home at election time. He has now sought streamlining of the voting system for the armed forces.”The last I voted was 10 years ago when I was at my home on vacation. In total I have voted only four times,” Major told IANS.

Born in 1947, Major joined the IAF in 1967. The fact that the IAF chief has voted only four times during his 41 years of service underscores the failure of successive government to give effective voting rights to the armed forces.

A majority of Indian armed forces personnel have never voted during their service tenure. With the Lok Sabha elections due next year, armed forces personnel hope the issue will be resolved as soon as possible.

“Though there are proxy voting system and postal ballot system in place, things have not materialised as they were desired,” said Major, who is the first helicopter pilot to have been appointed IAF chief.

Theoretically, soldiers can vote through postal ballots or by proxy - but there are deficiencies in both systems.

The postal ballot system has proved inadequate and inefficient due to the long delays involved in sending out voting sheets to the different places where defence personnel are posted.

“I have never voted during my 16 years of service. During the last general election, I received my postal ballot well after the new government was formed,” an air force officer said on condition of anonymity.

Acknowledging this problem, the IAF chief said: “We are aware there are problems but the decision has to be taken by the government. Another possible solution to the problem can be that a soldier is allowed to vote wherever he is posted at the time of elections.”

In the case of Indian army border posts, the delays in postal ballots are even more acute.

The voting sheets have to be filled in and sent back to the respective returning officers before the counting process begins - but this rarely happens on time.

India’s defence ministry has time and again stressed that it is seized of the matter, but the situation has not improved.

In June this year, Minister of State for Defence M. Pallam Raju told IANS: “We have been getting a lot of complaints from soldiers as they have been unable to cast their votes. We will soon hold a meeting with the Election Commission in this regard.”

But a 1.1-million strong army, around 140,000-strong air force and a nearly 60,000-strong navy are yet to be granted voting rights.

According to sources in the Army Postal Service, in the Southern Command, the biggest in the army and one that has eight states and three union territories under its jurisdiction, only 23,000 serving personnel of the three services exercised their franchise through the postal ballot in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections.

In September 2003, parliament had approved the proxy voting system for armed forces personnel whereby they could authorise a family member - usually a parent or a sibling or a spouse - to cast their vote by proxy.

This system draws heavily from that prevailing in Britain but has proved to be ineffective because soldiers do not even know the provision exists.

“The matter will be looked into during the meeting with Election Commission officials. A decision (on streamlining the system) will be taken well before the next elections,” Raju said.

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