The Central government on Monday tabled a bill in the Lok Sabha to ensure that more than 10 million Indian passport holders who are overseas get to exercise their right to vote in future through proxy. The draft law also seeks to make the election law gender neutral by replacing the term ‘wife’ with ‘spouse’ to benefit service voters.According to the provisions of ‘Representation of the People Act (Amendment) Bill, 2017’ introduced by Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, overseas Indians, who are entitled to vote in India, can now appoint a proxy voter to cast their votes. The Narendra Modi-government had submitted before the Supreme Court that the Cabinet would consider a draft bill seeking to allow e-voting by NRIs, armed forces personnel, and security forces working outside their constituency.As of now, overseas Indians with Indian passports are able to vote only if they are physically present in the constituency. However, in the 2014 elections, only 11,846 voters registered, Election Commission statistics reveal. This may allow the ruling BJP to translate the euphoria of events such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Madison Square event in New York and elsewhere into votes in the next general election.An expert committee of the Election Commission working on the issue had in 2015 forwarded the legal framework to the Law Ministry to amend the electoral laws to allow overseas Indians use proxy voting. The bill said the necessary provision of coming to India to cast ballot caused ‘hardship’ to overseas electors.Another provision in the amendment bill relates to spouses of service voters. As of now, an armyman’s wife is entitled to be enrolled as a service voter, but a woman army officer’s husband is not, according to the provisions in the electoral law. The draft bill proposes to replace the term ‘wife’ with ‘spouse’, thus making the provision gender neutral.Members of the armed forces, central armed police forces, personnel of state police forces posted outside their state and employees of the Centre posted outside India are eligible to be enrolled as service voters. According to Election Commission for 2014 electoral rolls, , 11, 846 oversses electors had registered. Out of the total 11,846 registered overseas electors, 11 ,448 (96.64%) are registered in the State of Kerala and the rest 398 (3.36%) are registered in the States of Punjab (138), Tamil Nadu (112) Puducherry (56), Goa (27), Delhi (13), Haryana (12), Daman & Diu (9), Gujarat (7), Chandigarh & Madhya Pradesh 6 (6 each), West Bengal (4), Chhattisgarh & Himachal Pradesh (2 each), and Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Uttar PradeshThe Opposition Congress had submitted to the EC that the privileges not being given to Indian voters must not be extended to NRI voters either. In the petition, the party favoured sending ballot papers by electronic mail or the acceptance of self-attested ballot papers as valid votes. The party has emphasized that internet voting is prone to misuse and rigging and therefore cannot be a viable voting mechanism.Other bills introduced in the Lok Sabha on Monday included getting permission to transport bamboo, The National Council for Teacher Education (Amendment) Bill, 2017, The Payment of Gratuity (Amendment) Bill, 2017, The Dentists (Amendment) Bill, 2017 and The Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2017. The government has proposed to do away with the practice of nominating practising dentists who do not have required qualifications to the Dental Council of India.(ends)OTHER PROVISIONThe draft law introduced in the Lok Sabha also seeks to make the election law gender neutral by replacing the term ‘wife’ with ‘spouse’ to benefit service voters.NRI population abroad 10037761 Countries with large NRI populationsAustralia213710Bahrain350000Canada200000Germany42500Italy97719Kuwait579058Malaysia150000Nepal112500Oman718000Qatar500000Saudi Arabia1789000Singapore350000Thailand90000UAE1750000UK1500000USA927283Out of 214 countries, 101 countries have provision of external voting.Few Countries where external voting is allowed Voting methodUnited States of AmericaVaries by state. External voting managed on state levelUnited KingdomMixed (postal, proxy)TurkeyPersonalSouth AfricaPersonalNew ZealandPersonal, postal, faxMalaysiaPostalIsraelPersonalItalypostalGermanyPostalEstoniaE-voting, personal, postal

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Govt tables bill in Lok Sabha to let NRIs vote in Indian polls