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Guj governor returns Modi's mandatory voting

Press Trust Of India
Apr 17, 2010 at 09:31pm IST

Ahmedabad: In a setback to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, state Governor Kamla has returned a bill seeking to make voting mandatory in the state on the ground that the legislation violates the Constitution and objecting to punishment clause for those choosing not to vote.

The bill was passed by Gujarat assembly in December 2009.

Gujarat Assembly Speaker Ashok Bhatt said the bill has been returned by the Governor a few days back.

The main objection cited by the Governor is that the bill violates the provision in the constitution.

Sources in the state Assembly secretariat said the Governor has raised two main objections while returning the bill.

"The main objection cited by the Governor is that the bill violates constitutional provision which does not allow voting to be made mandatory and that no punishment can be meted out for not participating in the exercise of voting," a senior official in the Assembly secretariat said.

Moreover, the Governor also noted that the mandatory voting bill be separated from the bill seeking 50 per cent reservation for women in local bodies election.

The Gujarat government had clubbed together the two bills putting opposition Congress in a dilemma as it had favoured the reservation for women bill but was opposed to the mandatory voting bill.

The Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2009, which seeks to raise the reservation of seats for women in local self governance bodies from 33 to 50 percent, was passed by voice vote in the state assembly on December 19, 2009.

As per the voting bill, if a voter fails to vote for reasons other than prescribed in the rules, he may be declared a 'defaulter voter' and would face consequences for which rules will be framed and placed before the Assembly for its approval later.

"It is observed that due to low turnout of voters to discharge their duty by exercising their right to vote, the true spirit of the will of the people is not reflected in the electoral mandate," said the statement of objects and reasons of the bill.

"Everybody will benefit by compulsory voting, be it a ruling party or the opposition," Narendra Modi had told reporters after the bill was passed in the House. He had described it as an attempt to strengthen the democracy in the state.

While introducing the bill, Gujarat Urban Development Minister Nitin Patel had described the bill as a historical step taken by the government to strengthen the democratic process by achieving 100 per cent voting in the local bodies' elections.

According to him, the proposal once approved, will put Gujarat in the league of a number of developed nations where voting in the local bodies' polls is mandatory.

However, Leader of Opposition Shaktisinh Gohil had described it as a "populist measure" by the state government which was in contradiction with the constitutional provisions.

He had added the amendment bill should be split into two and a separate bill for reservation for women be introduced first.

"My party will support the government and would vote in favour of the bill for enhancing reservation for women from 33 percent to 50 percent as done by the Central Government," Gohil said, adding, "however, Congress party cannot support the bill for mandatory voting."

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