July 2010
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NRIs may get voting rights soon

New Delhi: A longstanding demand for voting rights in India by millions of NRIs may finally see the light of the day with a Group of Ministers (GoM) clearing a draft bill on the issue, paving way for its consideration by the Union Cabinet.

Drafted almost fours years back by overseas affairs ministry, the Representation of People's (Amendment) Bill was cleared by a GoM headed by Defence Minister AK Antony and is likely to be presented soon before the Cabinet.

"The GoM headed by the Defence Minister cleared the bill. Now, we are all set to present it before the Cabinet and then it will be introduced in the Parliament," Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi said.

The GoM clearance came months after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while addressing the Pravasi Bhartiya Divas earlier this year here, had said he recognised the "legitimate desire" of Indians living abroad to exercise their franchise and to have a say in the governance of India.

The move to allow NRI participation in the democratic process will further boost the two-way engagement and help them actively participate in India's growth story, Ravi said.

The government had moved the bill in Rajya Sabha in 2006 proposing amendments to the Representation of People's Act to make provision for voting rights to non-resident Indians. The bill was then sent to a Parliamentary Standing Committee and later it was referred to the GoM.

Under the existing law, an NRI's name gets deleted from the voters' list if he/she stays outside the country for more than six months at a stretch.

The proposed amendments will allow an Indian citizen residing abroad to enroll in voter's list and exercise the franchise even if he or she remained away from place of residence in India for more than six months owing to their employment, education or otherwise.

However, the person will be able to exercise the franchise only if he or she is present in the constituency on the polling day.

The GoM that cleared the bill included Ravi, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal and Law Minister M Veerappa Moily.
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