Hopes of NRIs to cast votes in the ongoing general elections through Internet were dashed on Friday with the Supreme Court saying that any interim relief at this stage may open a pandora's box.
The apex court took into consideration the submission of the Election Commission that grant of interim relief at this stage would be beyond the scope and relief claimed by the petitioners when the polls have already been taken in 104 Lok Sabha seats spreading over 20 States and Union Territories.
"After polls, is it possible? Will it not a open pandora's box. If some consideration is given, practical difficulty will arise," a bench comprising justices K S Radhakrishnan and Vikramajit Sen said while noting that yesterday only polls have taken place in many parts of the country including Kerala and incidently many of the petitioners before it were from the southern state.
However, the bench decided to throughly deliberate on the demand for extending the right of voting through electronic format of Internet to NRIs registered as voters in different places in the country.
It issued notices and asked the Centre and the Election Commission to file counter affidavits within a month and posted the matter for hearing at the end of August.
The bench also asked the Election Commission to place before it the report of the committee set up by it to "study various available options for the purpose of NRI voting".
The court on April 7 had asked the Election Commission to explore the possibility of doing something so that NRIs may be able to cast their votes through Internet from overseas in the ensuing elections.
Keeping the issue alive, the bench said, "we need solution and we should enable every citizen to cast their vote and we should come out with a reasonable direction.
"In this case it has become infructuous but we have to consider for one composite order so that all complexities should go," the bench said while taking note of the fact that there are so many registered voters who could not cast votes because they are away from the place of voting due to some or the other reasons.
The bench was informed by senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for petitioners, that last month only after the election process had started, the apex court had removed the technical hurdles and opened the doors for defence personnel in peace stations to get registered as voters in constituency of their posting.
It had recorded the statement of the Commission's counsel that the tenure posting of three years for such services personnel and their families shall not be insisted upon while allowing them to practice their franchise as general voters.
Taking note of the March 24 order, the bench said such relief should be considered for those citizens who are in transferable jobs.
"Why not government servants who are subject to frequent transfers. Why not employees in private jobs who are subject to frequent transfers," the bench observed while adding that "it is a constitutional right".
The commission in its affidavit said that as per the provisions of the 1950 and 1951 of the Representation of the People Act, voting at every election shall be given by ballot or voting machines in the manner prescribed and only a limited class of voters are permitted to vote by either proxy or postal ballot.
Earlier on April 7 itself, the Commission had told the court that it was almost impossible to make any such arrangement for NRIs to cast their votes from overseas in the ongoing general election as electoral rolls have been concluded in almost all the constituencies.
The court was hearing a bunch of PILs in which it has been contended that the existing provision which mandates NRI voter to be physically present in the constituency to exercise his vote was discriminatory and violative of fundamental rights.
Petitioners, including NRI Shamsheer VP, have submitted that a total number of over one crore people will be entitled to cast their vote if NRIs are allowed to vote from overseas.
The PILs said 114 countries have adopted external voting and amongst it are 20 Asian countries. It said the external voting could be by setting up polling booths at the diplomatic mission, or by postal, proxy or electronic voting.
Shamsheer migrated to the UAE 12 years ago prior to which he was enrolled as a voter in his hometown of Calicut, Kerala and had voted in the elections. Subsequently, he was removed from the voters list because of his NRI status.