New Delhi: The Election Commission of India and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) are considering allowing the return of NRI voters’ postal ballots through diplomatic bags, ThePrint has learnt.
A diplomatic bag is a container in which official correspondence or other items are transported between a diplomatic mission and its home government.
While it has already been decided that the postal ballots will be sent to NRI voters electronically through the ECI’s Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS), according to sources in the government, it is now being suggested the voter give the postal ballot to an officer designated by the embassy, who would attest it and then the ballots will be sent back to India through the diplomatic bag.
“As of now, there are roughly 1.06 lakh NRI voters registered with the ECI, out of which about 87,000 are from Kerala itself. So the numbers are not very huge,” said a senior official who did not wish to be named.
“So to begin with, the ballots can be brought to India through the diplomatic bag to either the Election Commission or MEA, and then they can be transported to the Returning Officer (RO). Details have to be worked out on how the ballots will then be taken from Delhi to the Returning Officer within the election timeline,” the official added.
According to another government official, the ballots are not being returned electronically to avoid technical manipulation or errors.
“Once Aadhar and voter IDs are linked, then there may be no issue in making ETPBS a two-way process,” he told ThePrint.
Law ministry consulting other ministries on proposal
There are roughly about 1 crore Indians settled abroad, of whom about 60 lakh are estimated to be of eligible voting age, and the ECI has proposed extending the postal ballot facility to them for the upcoming assembly elections. At present, NRIs can only vote in person.
The commission and the external affairs ministry have been attempting to thrash out the workings of the proposal, according to sources.
On 18 December, the law ministry also wrote to the MEA for its views and stated that the latter will be required to designate an officer at every embassy to attest the ballot paper.
Sources said the law ministry is also consulting the home and finance ministries on the proposal. It will respond to the ECI formally after the inputs by the two ministries.
The proposal will require an amendment to Rule 24 of the Conduct of Elections Rule, 1961, which deals with the recording of postal ballots. The rule states: “The elector shall sign the declaration in Form 13A in the presence of, and have the signature attested by, a stipendiary magistrate or such other officer specified below, as may be appropriate, to whom he is personally known or to whose satisfaction he has been identified.”