The Delhi high court on Friday refused to entertain a PIL seeking direction to the Centre and the Election Commission to make voting compulsory in parliamentary and assembly polls, saying it cannot force a person to vote.
"We are not lawmakers. We cannot pass such directions. Is there any provision in the Constitution that makes voting compulsory?” a bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad said.
The court warned the petitioner, advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, that it would dismiss the petition with costs after which he withdrew it.
Upadhyay had filed the public interest litigation, saying compulsory voting will ensure every citizen has a voice, will improve the quality of democracy and secure the right to vote. The plea said low voter turnout is a persistent problem and compulsory voting can help increase the turnout, particularly among marginalised communities.
During the hearing, the petitioner cited the example of drivers, saying many of them are not able to cast vote as they had to work in other cities.
The bench said it is their right and their choice.
"We cannot force a person present in Chennai to come back to his hometown in Srinagar and vote there. You want us to direct the police to catch him and send him to Srinagar," the bench said.
It also refused to direct the Election Commission to treat the petition as a representation.
The petition had said, "When voter turnout is high, the government is more accountable to the people and is more likely to act in their best interests."
It said compulsory voting promotes political participation by making voting a civic duty, and when voting is compulsory, people are more likely to take an interest in politics and get engaged in the democratic process.
”This can help overcome voter apathy, which is a significant problem in India. Many people are disillusioned with the political system and feel that their votes do not count. Compulsory voting can help restore faith in the democratic process and encourage people to become more involved in politics,” the petition said.
It added that compulsory voting ensures that elected representatives are chosen by a larger and more representative group of people, which will increase the legitimacy of the government.
The petitioner said compulsory voting has been successfully implemented in countries like Australia, Belgium and Brazil and they have seen significant increase in voter turnout.
As an alternative prayer, the plea had urged the court to direct the Election Commission to use its plenary constitutional power to increase voters' turnout in the elections for parliament and state assemblies. It had also sought a direction to the Law Commission to prepare a report on compulsory voting.