Gujarat became the first state to have a provision for compulsory voting with the state government on Monday putting out a notification in this regard.
Besides making voting mandatory in the local body elections, the communiqué, backdated to July 17, reserves 50 per cent seats for women in municipal corporations, municipalities, and village panchayats.
With the government notifying the Gujarat Local Authorities Act (Amendment) 2009, a voter in the state would now invite punitive action in case he or she fails to vote in the local body elections without any acceptable reason. The local body polls in the state are likely to be held in September and October.
However, the notification has not specified what punishment would be meted out those who fail to exercise their franchise.
The notification issued by the Urban Development and Urban Housing Department, however, led to confusion given that on July 22, the government had announced that it would come out with an ordinance within the Act for a further amendment.
“We had announced on July 22 for first bringing out an ordinance for inclusion of a clause on disqualification of office bearers if they fail to vote without a valid reason, and then notification. But the notification, which is out now, however, has a date prior to the ordinance announcement,” said government spokesperson and Health Minister Nitin Patel.
Patel said: “The Governor has also cleared the ordinance. So, whether a common man or an elected councillor, everyone will now have to compulsorily vote.” An elected member of a local body or an office bearer, according to the ordinance, wound stand disqualified in the event he or she does not vote. This ordinance is likely to be made part of the Act through another amendment in the upcoming Monsoon session, slated for the next month.
State Election Commission secretary Mahesh Joshi said, “We have received the communication from the government for the Act coming into effect from July 17. Rules for the amended Act, however, are yet to out.”
The BJP government had to wait for five years for getting the Bill cleared from the Governor’s office. Introduced first in 2009, the Bill was cleared by the Governor only in November 2014.
The Bill that was earlier passed twice with a majority vote by the Gujarat government, then led by Narendra Modi, had faced stiff resistance from former Governor Kamla Beniwal in 2010 and 2011 on the grounds that forcing people to vote violates Article 21 of the Constitution. She had remarked: “Forcing a voter to vote is against the principles of individual liberty.”
Sources said the government has been mulling over punishing the “defaulters” (those failing to turn up to vote) by cancelling their BPL card , or subsidy or terminating government service.