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Gujarat first state to make voting mandatory in local body polls

PTI November 09, 2014 23:27 IST

Gandhinagar: Gujarat has become the first state in the country where voters will have to compulsorily exercise their franchise in local body polls with new Governor O P Kohli clearing the Gujarat Local Authorities Laws Bill, passed earlier by the state government under Narendra Modi, but was opposed by ex-Governor Dr Kamla.  

The Bill also provides for 50 per cent reservation for women in local bodies. “The Governor of Gujarat has signed the Gujarat Local Authorities Laws bill and gave sanction for its implementation to the state government,” State Assembly Secretary D M Patel told PTI today.

The Bill was sanctioned by the Governor three days back, he said. As per the Bill, any person who fails to vote during local body polls, is liable for “punishment and will be penalised,” though it did not explain the exact nature of action.  

The Bill, passed twice by the BJP government under then chief minister Narendra Modi in the Legislative Assembly, had faced a stiff resistance from the former Governor who had taken the stand that the provision of compulsory voting is violation of Article 21 of the constitution.  The ex-Governor had not approved the Bill during her tenure, but after the change of guard at Raj Bhavan, Kohli has given his assent.

The Bill was first introduced on the floor of state Assembly in December 2009 and passed by a majority vote.  However, Dr Kamla returned it to the government for reconsideration in April 2010 with remarks that “forcing voter to vote is against the principles of an individual liberty”.  

“The present Bill violets the freedom which a citizen is entitled to enjoy under Article 21 of the Constitution.  Government should not have entered into a controversy to compel voters to act against their conscience by means of coercion,” Dr Kamla had said in her letter asking the BJP government to make amendments to the Bill.  

She had also asked the government to separate issue of women's reservation in local body polls from that of compulsory voting. The former Governor, whose relations with Modi government had often remained frosty, had said, “the penal action that a non-voter would face was not specified in the Bill and (is) left to government which would be framing the rules.

(But) it cannot be left to the rule-making authority as it makes it both alarming and serious.” However, ignoring the suggestions made by the then Governor, the Modi government had once again passed the Bill on December 28, 2011 in a majority vote on floor of the House and sent it back to Dr Kamla for sanction.  

The passage of the Bill was part of a poll agenda in the run-up to elections to state Assembly and Lok Sabha polls, with Modi had often referring the Governor's action of not passing the Bill as “injustice to the women of Gujarat”. 

Dr Kamla was removed as Governor when the NDA government took over under Narendra Modi as Prime Minister after the Lok Sabha elections. She was transferred to Mizoram as Governor but was later relieved of her charge in August.