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Elections – Right of voter to vote none Candidates contested in Elections = None of the Above” (NOTA) may be provided in EVMs so that the voters= challenging the constitutional validity of Rules 41(2) & (3) and 49-O of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 (in short ‘the Rules’) to the extent that these provisions violate the secrecy of voting which is fundamental to the free and fair elections and is required to be maintained as per Section 128 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (in short ‘the RP Act’) and Rules 39 and 49-M of the Rules.- In the above backdrop, the petitioners herein prayed for declaring Rules 41(2) & (3) and 49-O of the Rules ultra vires and unconstitutional and also prayed for a direction to the Election Commission of India- Respondent No. 2 herein, to provide necessary provision in the ballot papers as well as in the electronic voting machines for the protection of the right of not to vote in order to keep the exercise of such right a secret under the existing RP Act/the Rules or under Article 324 of the Constitution.= we hold that Rules 41(2) & (3) and 49-O of the Rules are ultra vires Section 128 of the RP Act and Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution to the extent they violate secrecy of voting. In view of our conclusion, we direct the Election Commission to provide necessary provision in the ballot papers/EVMs and another button called “None of the Above” (NOTA) may be provided in EVMs so that the voters, who come to the polling booth and decide not to vote for any of the candidates in the fray, are able to exercise their right not to vote while maintaining their right of secrecy. Inasmuch as the Election Commission itself is in favour of the provision for NOTA in EVMs, we direct the Election Commission to implement the same either in a phased manner or at a time with the assistance of the Government of India. We also direct the Government of India to provide necessary help for implementation of the above direction. Besides, we also direct the Election Commission to undertake awareness programmes to educate the masses. 62) The writ petition is disposed of with the aforesaid directions.

published in http://judis.nic.in/supremecourt/imgst.aspx?filename=40835

 

English: The supreme court of india. Taken abo...

English: The supreme court of india. Taken about 170 m from the main building outside the perimeter wall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

 

CIVIL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION
1 WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 161 OF 2004

 
People’s Union for Civil
Liberties & Anr. …. Petitioner (s)

 

Versus

 

Union of India & Anr. …. Respondent(s)

 

2

 

J U D G M E N T
P.Sathasivam, CJI.

 

1) The present writ petition, under Article 32 of the Constitution of
India, has been filed by the petitioners herein challenging the
constitutional validity of Rules 41(2) & (3) and 49-O of the Conduct of
Election Rules, 1961 (in short ‘the Rules’) to the extent that these
provisions violate the secrecy of voting which is fundamental to the free
and fair elections and is required to be maintained as per Section 128 of
the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (in short ‘the RP Act’) and
Rules 39 and 49-M of the Rules.

 

2) The petitioners herein have preferred this petition for the issuance
of a writ or direction(s) of like nature on the ground that though the
above said Rules, viz., Rules 41(2) & (3) and 49-O, recognize the right of
a voter not to vote but still the secrecy of his having not voted is not
maintained in its implementation and thus the impugned rules, to the extent
of such violation of the right to secrecy, are not only ultra vires to the
said Rules but also violative of Articles 19(1)(a) and 21 of the
Constitution of India besides International Covenants.

 

3) In the above backdrop, the petitioners herein prayed for declaring
Rules 41(2) & (3) and 49-O of the Rules ultra vires and unconstitutional
and also prayed for a direction to the Election Commission of India-
Respondent No. 2 herein, to provide necessary provision in the ballot
papers as well as in the electronic voting machines for the protection of
the right of not to vote in order to keep the exercise of such right a
secret under the existing RP Act/the Rules or under Article 324 of the
Constitution.

 

4) On 23.02.2009, a Division Bench of this Court, on an objection with
regard to maintainability of the writ petition on the ground that right to
vote is not a fundamental right but is a statutory right, after considering
Union of India vs. Association for Democratic Reforms and Anr. (2002) 5 SCC
294 and People’s Union for Civil Liberties vs. Union of India (2003) 4 SCC
399 held that even though the judgment in Kuldip Nayar & Ors. vs. Union of
India & Ors. (2006) 7 SCC 1 did not overrule or discard the ratio laid down
in the judgments mentioned above, however, it creates a doubt in this
regard, referred the matter to a larger Bench to arrive at a decision.

 

5) One Centre for Consumer Education and Association for Democratic
Reforms have filed applications for impleadment in this Writ Petition.
Impleadment applications are allowed.
6) Heard Mr. Rajinder Sachhar, learned senior counsel for the
petitioners, Mr. P.P. Malhotra, learned Additional Solicitor General for
the Union of India-Respondent No. 1 herein, Ms. Meenakshi Arora, learned
counsel for the Election Commission of India-Respondent No. 2 herein, Ms
Kamini Jaiswal and Mr. Raghenth Basant, learned counsel for the impleading
parties.

 

Contentions:
7) Mr. Rajinder Sachhar, learned senior counsel for the petitioners, by
taking us through various provisions, particularly, Section 128 of the RP
Act as well as Rules 39, 41, 49-M and 49-O of the Rules submitted that in
terms of Rule 41(2) of the Rules, an elector has a right not to vote but
still the secrecy of his having not voted is not maintained under Rules
41(2) and (3) thereof. He further pointed out that similarly according to
Rule 49-O of the Rules, the right of a voter who decides not to vote has
been accepted but the secrecy is not maintained. According to him, in case
an elector decides not to record his vote, a remark to this effect shall be
made against the said entry in Form 17-A by the Presiding Officer and the
signature or thumb impression of the elector shall be obtained against such
remark. Hence, if a voter decides not to vote, his record will be
maintained by the Presiding Officer which will thereby disclose that he has
decided not to vote. The main substance of the arguments of learned senior
counsel for the petitioners is that though right not to vote is recognized
by Rules 41 and 49-O of the Rules and is also a part of the freedom of
expression of a voter, if a voter chooses to exercise the said right, it
has to be kept secret. Learned senior counsel further submitted that both
the above provisions, to the extent of such violation of the secrecy clause
are not only ultra vires but also contrary to Section 128 of the RP Act,
Rules 39 and 49-M of the Rules as well as Articles 19(1)(a) and 21 of the
Constitution.
8) On the other hand, Mr. P.P. Malhotra, learned Additional Solicitor
General appearing for the Union of India submitted that the right to vote
is neither a fundamental right nor a constitutional right nor a common law
right but is a pure and simple statutory right. He asserted that neither
the RP Act nor the Constitution of India declares the right to vote as
anything more than a statutory right and hence the present writ petition is
not maintainable. He further pointed out that in view of the decision of
the Constitution Bench in Kuldip Nayar (supra), the reference for deciding
the same by a larger Bench was unnecessary. He further pointed out that in
view of the above decision, the earlier two decisions of this Court, viz.,
Association for Democratic Reforms and Another (supra) and People’s Union
for Civil Liberties (supra), stood impliedly overruled, hence, on this
ground also reference to a larger Bench was not required. He further
pointed out that though the power of Election Commission under Article 324
of the Constitution is wide enough, but still the same can, in no manner,
be construed as to cover those areas, which are already covered by the
statutory provisions. He further pointed out that even from the existing
provisions, it is clear that secrecy of ballot is a principle which has
been formulated to ensure that in no case it shall be known to the
candidates or their representatives that in whose favour a particular voter
has voted so that he can exercise his right to vote freely and fearlessly.
He also pointed out that the right of secrecy has been extended to only
those voters who have exercised their right to vote and the same, in no
manner, can be extended to those who have not voted at all. Finally, he
submitted that since Section 2(d) of the RP Act specifically defines
“election” to mean an election to fill a seat, it cannot be construed as an
election not to fill a seat.
9) Ms. Meenakshi Arora, learned counsel appearing for the Election
Commission of India – Respondent No. 2 herein, by pointing out various
provisions both from the RP Act and the Rules submitted that inasmuch as
secrecy is an essential feature of “free and fair elections”, Rules 41(2) &
(3) and 49-O of the Rules violate the requirement of secrecy.
10) Ms. Kamini Jaiswal and Mr. Raghenth Basant, learned counsel appearing
for the impleading parties, while agreeing with the stand of the
petitioners as well as the Election Commission of India, prayed that
necessary directions may be issued for providing another button viz., “None
of the Above” (NOTA) in the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) so that the
voters who come to the polling booth and decide not to vote for any of the
candidates, are able to exercise their right not to vote while maintaining
their right of secrecy.
11) We have carefully considered the rival submissions and perused the
relevant provisions of the RP Act and the Rules.
Discussion:
12) In order to answer the above contentions, it is vital to refer to the
relevant provisions of the RP Act and the Rules. Sections 79(d) and 128 of
the RP Act read as under:
“79(d)–“electoral right” means the right of a person to stand or not
to stand as, or to withdraw or not to withdraw from being, a
candidate, or to vote or refrain from voting at an election.
128 – Maintenance of secrecy of voting–(1) Every officer, clerk,
agent or other person who performs any duty in connection with the
recording or counting of votes at an election shall maintain, and aid
in maintaining, the secrecy of the voting and shall not (except for
some purpose authorized by or under any law) communicate to any person
any information calculated to violate such secrecy:
Provided that the provisions of this sub-section shall not apply to
such officer, clerk, agent or other person who performs any such duty
at an election to fill a seat or seats in the Council of States.
(2) Any person who contravenes the provisions of sub-section (1) shall
be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three
months or with fine or with both.”
Rules 39(1), 41, 49-M and 49-O of the Rules read as under:
“39. Maintenance of secrecy of voting by electors within polling
station and voting procedure.–(1) Every elector to whom a ballot
paper has been issued under rule 38 or under any other provision of
these rules, shall maintain secrecy of voting within the polling
station and for that purpose observe the voting procedure hereinafter
laid down.
41. Spoilt and returned ballot papers.–(1) An elector who has
inadvertently dealt with his ballot paper in such manner that it
cannot be conveniently used as a ballot paper may, on returning it to
the presiding officer and on satisfying him of the inadvertence, be
given another ballot paper, and the ballot paper so returned and the
counterfoil of such ballot paper shall be marked “Spoilt: cancelled”
by the presiding officer.
(2) If an elector after obtaining a ballot paper decides not to use
it, he shall return it to the presiding officer, and the ballot paper
so returned and the counterfoil of such ballot paper shall be marked
as “Returned: cancelled” by the presiding officer.
(3) All ballot papers cancelled under sub-rule (1) or sub-rule (2)
shall be kept in a separate packet.
49M. Maintenance of secrecy of voting by electors within the polling
station and voting procedures.–(1) Every elector who has been
permitted to vote under rule 49L shall maintain secrecy of voting
within the polling station and for that purpose observe the voting
procedure hereinafter laid down.
(2) Immediately on being permitted to vote the elector shall proceed
to the presiding officer or the polling officer incharge of the
control unit of the voting machine who shall, by pressing the
appropriate button on the control unit, activate the balloting unit;
for recording of elector’s vote.
(3) The elector shall thereafter forthwith–
(a) proceed to the voting compartment;
(b) record his vote by pressing the button on the balloting unit
against the name and symbol of the candidate for whom he intends to
vote; and
(c) come out of the voting compartment and leave the polling station.
(4) Every elector shall vote without undue delay.
(5) No elector shall be allowed to enter the voting compartment when
another elector is inside it.
(6) If an elector who has been permitted to vote under rule 49L or
rule 49P refuses after warning given by the presiding officer to
observe the procedure laid down in sub-rule (3) of the said rules, the
presiding officer or a polling officer under the direction of the
presiding officer shall not allow such elector to vote.
(7) Where an elector is not allowed to vote under sub-rule (6), a
remark to the effect that voting procedure has been violated shall be
made against the elector’s name in the register of voters in Form 17A
by the presiding officer under his signature.
49-O. Elector deciding not to vote.–If an elector, after his
electoral roll number has been duly entered in the register of voters
in Form 17A and has put his signature or thumb impression thereon as
required under sub-rule (1) of rule 49L, decide not to record his
vote, a remark to this effect shall be made against the said entry in
Form 17A by the presiding officer and the signature or thumb
impression of the elector shall be obtained against such remark.”

 
13) Apart from the above provisions, it is also relevant to refer Article
21(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 25(b) of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which read as under:
“21(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of
government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine
elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be
held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”
“25. Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without
any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without
unreasonable restrictions:
(a) *** *** ***;
(b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which
shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret
ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors;”
14) Articles 19(1)(a) and 21 of the Constitution, which are also
pertinent for this matter, are as under:
“19 – Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech, etc.–
(1) All citizens shall have the right-
(a) to freedom of speech and expression;
xxxxx
21 – Protection of life and personal liberty–No person shall be
deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure
established by law.”

 
15) From the above provisions, it is clear that in case an elector
decides not to record his vote, a remark to this effect shall be made in
Form 17-A by the Presiding Officer and the signature or thumb impression of
the elector shall be obtained against such remark. Form 17-A reads as
under:

 

“FORM 17A
[See rule 49L)
REGISTER OF VOTERS
Election to the House of the People/ Legislative Assembly of the
State/ Union territory ……………from………………Constituency No. and Name of Polling
Station……………Part No. of Electoral Roll…………

 

|Sl. |Sl. No. of |Details of the |Signature/ |Remarks |
|No. |elector in the |document produced |Thumb | |
| |electoral roll |by the elector in |impression of | |
| | |proof of his/ her |elector | |
| | |identification | | |
|(1) |(2) |(3) |(4) |(5) |
|1. | | | | |
|2. | | | | |
|3. | | | | |
|4. | | | | |
etc.

 
Signature of the Presiding Officer”

 

16) Before elaborating the contentions relating to the above provisions
with reference to the secrecy of voting, let us first consider the issue of
maintainability of the Writ Petition as raised by the Union of India. In
the present Writ Petition, which is of the year 2004, the petitioners have
prayed for the following reliefs:
“(i) declaring that Rules 41(2) & (3) and 49-O of the Conduct of
Election Rules, 1961 are ultra vires and unconstitutional to the
extent they violate secrecy of vote;
(ii) direct the Election Commission under the existing Representation
of People Act, 1951 and the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 and/ or
under Article 324 to provide necessary provision in the ballot papers
and the voting machines for protection of right not to vote and to
keep the exercise of such right secret;”
17) It is relevant to point out that initially the present Writ Petition
came up for hearing before a Bench of two-Judges. During the course of
hearing, an objection was raised with regard to the maintainability of the
Writ Petition under Article 32 on the ground that the right claimed by the
petitioners is not a fundamental right as enshrined in Part III of the
Constitution. It is the categorical objection of the Union of India that
inasmuch as the writ petition under Article 32 would lie to this Court only
for the violation of fundamental rights and since the right to vote is not
a fundamental right, the present Writ Petition under Article 32 is not
maintainable. It is the specific stand of the Union of India that right to
vote is not a fundamental right but merely a statutory right. It is
further pointed out that this Court, in Para 20 of the referral order dated
23.02.2009, reported in (2009) 3 SCC 200, observed that since in Kuldip
Nayar (supra), the judgments of this Court in Association for Democratic
Reforms (supra) and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (supra) have not
been specifically overruled which tend to create a doubt whether the right
to vote is a fundamental right or not and referred the same to a larger
Bench stating that the issue requires clarity. In view of the reference,
we have to decide:
(i) Whether there is any doubt or confusion with regard to the right of a
voter in Kuldip Nayar (supra);
(ii) Whether earlier two judgments viz., Association for Democratic
Reforms (supra) and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (supra) referred to
by the Constitution Bench in Kuldip Nayar (supra) stand impliedly
overruled.
18) Though, Mr. Malhotra relied on a large number of decisions, we are of
the view that there is no need to refer to those decisions except a
reference to the decision of this Court in Kuldip Nayar (supra),
Association for Democratic Reforms (supra) and People’s Union for Civil
Liberties (supra).
19) A three-Judge Bench of this Court comprising M.B Shah, P. Venkatarama
Reddi and D.M. Dharmadhikari, JJ. expressed separate but concurring
opinions in the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (supra). In para 97,
Reddi, J made an observation as to the right to vote being a Constitutional
right if not a fundamental right which reads as under:
“97. In Jyoti Basu v. Debi Ghosal [1982] 3 SCR 318 this Court again
pointed out in no uncertain terms that:
8 “a right to elect, fundamental though it is to democracy, is,
anomalously enough, neither a fundamental right nor a common law
right. It is pure and simple a statutory right.”
With great reverence to the eminent Judges, I would like to clarify
that the right to vote, if not a fundamental right, is certainly a
constitutional right. The right originates from the Constitution and
in accordance with the constitutional mandate contained in Article
326, the right has been shaped by the statute, namely, R.P. act. That,
in my understanding, is the correct legal position as regards the
nature of the right to vote in elections to the House of the People
and Legislative Assemblies. It is not very accurate to describe it as
a statutory right, pure and simple. Even with this clarification, the
argument of the learned Solicitor General that the right to vote not
being a fundamental right, the information which at best facilitates
meaningful exercise of that right cannot be read as an integral part
of any fundamental right, remains to be squarely met….”
Similarly, in para 123, point No. 2 Reddi, J., held as under:-
“(2) The right to vote at the elections to the House of the People or
Legislative Assembly is a constitutional right but not merely a
statutory right; freedom of voting as distinct from right to vote is a
facet of the fundamental right enshrined in Article 19(1)(a). The
casting of vote in favour of one or the other candidate marks the
accomplishment of freedom of expression of the voter.”
Except the above two paragraphs, this aspect has nowhere been discussed or
elaborated wherein all the three Judges, in their separate but concurring
judgments, have taken the pains to specifically distinguish between right
to vote and freedom of voting as a species of freedom of expression. In
succinct, the ratio of the judgment was that though the right to vote is a
statutory right but the decision taken by a voter after verifying the
credentials of the candidate either to vote or not is his right of
expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
20) As a result, the judgments in Association for Democratic Reforms
(supra) and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (supra) have not disturbed
the position that right to vote is a statutory right. Both the judgments
have only added that the right to know the background of a candidate is a
fundamental right of a voter so that he can take a rational decision of
expressing himself while exercising the statutory right to vote. In
People’s Union for Civil Liberties (supra), Shah J., in para 78D, held as
under:-
“…However, voters’ fundamental right to know the antecedents of a
candidate is independent of statutory rights under the election law. A
voter is first citizen of this country and apart from statutory
rights, he is having fundamental rights conferred by the
Constitution…”
P. Venkatrama Reddi, J., in Para 97, held as under:-
“…Though the initial right cannot be placed on the pedestal of a
fundamental right, but, at the stage when the voter goes to the
polling booth and casts his vote, his freedom to express arises. The
casting of vote in favour of one or the other candidate tantamounts to
expression of his opinion and preference and that final stage in the
exercise of voting right marks the accomplishment of freedom of
expression of the voter. That is where Article 19(1)(a) is attracted.
Freedom of voting as distinct from right to vote is thus a species of
freedom of expression and therefore carries with it the auxiliary and
complementary rights such as right to secure information about the
candidate which are conducive to the freedom…”
Dharmadhikari, J., in para 127, held as under:-
“…This freedom of a citizen to participate and choose a candidate at
an election is distinct from exercise of his right as a voter which is
to be regulated by statutory law on the election like the RP Act…”

 
In view of the above, Para 362 in Kuldip Nayar (supra) does not hold to the
contrary, which reads as under:-
“We do not agree with the above submission. It is clear that a fine
distinction was drawn between the right to vote and the freedom of
voting as a species of freedom of expression, while reiterating the
view in Jyoti Basu v. Debi Ghosal that a right to elect, fundamental
though it is to democracy, is neither a fundamental right nor a common
law right, but pure and simple, a statutory right”.
21) After a careful perusal of the verdicts of this Court in Kuldip Nayar
(supra), Association for Democratic Reforms (supra) and People’s Union for
Civil Liberties (supra), we are of the considered view that Kuldip Nayar
(supra) does not overrule the other two decisions rather it only reaffirms
what has already been said by the two aforesaid decisions. The said
paragraphs recognize that right to vote is a statutory right and also in
People’s Union for Civil Liberties (supra) it was held that “a fine
distinction was drawn between the right to vote and the freedom of voting
as a species of freedom of expression”. Therefore, it cannot be said that
Kuldip Nayar (supra) has observed anything to the contrary. In view of the
whole debate of whether these two decisions were overruled or discarded
because of the opening line in Para 362 of Kuldip Nayar (supra) i.e., “we
do not agree with the above submissions…” we are of the opinion that this
line must be read as a whole and not in isolation. The contention of the
petitioners in Kuldip Nayar (supra) was that majority view in People’s
Union for Civil Liberties (supra) held that right to vote is a
Constitutional right besides that it is also a facet of fundamental right
under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. It is this contention on which
the Constitution Bench did not agree too in the opening line in para 362
and thereafter went on to clarify that in fact in People’s Union for Civil
Liberties (supra), a fine distinction was drawn between the right to vote
and the freedom of voting as a species of freedom of expression. Thus,
there is no contradiction as to the fact that right to vote is neither a
fundamental right nor a Constitutional right but a pure and simple
statutory right. The same has been settled in a catena of cases and it is
clearly not an issue in dispute in the present case. With the above
observation, we hold that there is no doubt or confusion persisting in the
Constitution Bench judgment of this Court in Kuldip Nayar (supra) and the
decisions in Association for Democratic Reforms (supra) and People’s Union
for Civil Liberties (PUCL) (supra) do not stand impliedly overruled.
Whether the present writ petition under Article 32 is maintainable:
22) In the earlier part of our judgment, we have quoted the reliefs
prayed for by the petitioners in the writ petition. Mr. Malhotra, learned
Additional Solicitor General, by citing various decisions submitted that
since right to vote is not a fundamental right but is merely a statutory
right, hence, the present writ petition under Article 32 is not
maintainable and is liable to be dismissed. He referred to the following
decisions of this Court in N.P. Ponnuswami vs. Returning officer, 1952 SCR
218, Jamuna Prasad Mukhariya vs. Lachhi Ram, 1955 (1) SCR 608, University
of Delhi vs. Anand Vardhan Chandal, (2000) 10 SCC 648, Kuldip Nayar (supra)
and K. Krishna Murthy (Dr.) vs. Union of India, (2010) 7 SCC 202, wherein
it has been held that the right to vote is not a fundamental right but is
merely a statutory right.
23) In Kochunni vs. State of Madras, 1959 (2) Supp. SCR 316, this Court
held that the right to move before this Court under Article 32, when a
fundamental right has been breached, is a substantive fundamental right by
itself. In a series of cases, this Court has held that it is the duty of
this Court to enforce the guaranteed fundamental rights.[Vide Daryo vs.
State of U.P. 1962 (1) SCR 574].
24) The decision taken by a voter after verifying the credentials of the
candidate either to vote or not is a form of expression under Article
19(1)(a) of the Constitution. The fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a)
read with statutory right under Section 79(d) of the RP Act is violated
unreasonably if right not to vote effectively is denied and secrecy is
breached. This is how Articles 14 and 19(1)(a) are required to be read for
deciding the issue raised in this writ petition. The casting of the vote
is a facet of the right of expression of an individual and the said right
is provided under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India (Vide:
Association for Democratic Reforms (supra) and People’s Union for Civil
Liberties (supra). Therefore, any violation of the said rights gives the
aggrieved person the right to approach this Court under Article 32 of the
Constitution of India. In view of the above said decisions as well as the
observations of the Constitution Bench in Kuldip Nayar (supra), a prima
facie case exists for the exercise of jurisdiction of this Court under
Article 32.
25) Apart from the above, we would not be justified in asking the
petitioners to approach the High Court to vindicate their grievance by way
of a writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India at this
juncture. Considering the reliefs prayed for which relate to the right of
a voter and applicable to all eligible voters, it may not be appropriate to
direct the petitioners to go to each and every High Court and seek
appropriate relief. Accordingly, apart from our conclusion on legal issue,
in view of the fact that the writ petition is pending before this Court for
the last more than nine years, it may not be proper to reject the same on
the ground, as pleaded by learned ASG. For the reasons mentioned above, we
reject the said contention and hold that this Court is competent to hear
the issues raised in this writ petition filed under Article 32 of the
Constitution.
Discussion about the relief prayed for in the writ petition:
26) We have already quoted the relevant provisions, particularly, Section
128 of the RP Act, Rules 39, 41, 49M and 49-O of the Rules. It is clear
from the above provisions that secrecy of casting vote is duly recognized
and is necessary for strengthening democracy. We are of the opinion that
paragraph Nos. 441, 442 and 452 to 454 of the decision of the Constitution
Bench in Kuldip Nayar (supra), are relevant for this purpose which are
extracted hereinbelow:
“441. Voting at elections to the Council of States cannot be compared
with a general election. In a general election, the electors have to
vote in a secret manner without fear that their votes would be
disclosed to anyone or would result in victimisation. There is no
party affiliation and hence the choice is entirely with the voter.
This is not the case when elections are held to the Council of States
as the electors are elected Members of the Legislative Assemblies who
in turn have party affiliations.
442. The electoral systems world over contemplate variations. No one
yardstick can be applied to an electoral system. The question whether
election is direct or indirect and for which House members are to be
chosen is a relevant aspect. All over the world in democracies,
members of the House of Representatives are chosen directly by popular
vote. Secrecy there is a must and insisted upon; in representative
democracy, particularly to the upper chamber, indirect means of
election adopted on party lines is well accepted practice.
452. Parliamentary democracy and multi-party system are an inherent
part of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution. It is the
political parties that set up candidates at an election who are
predominantly elected as Members of the State Legislatures. The
context in which general elections are held, secrecy of the vote is
necessary in order to maintain the purity of the electoral system.
Every voter has a right to vote in a free and fair manner and not
disclose to any person how he has voted. But here we are concerned
with a voter who is elected on the ticket of a political party. In
this view, the context entirely changes.
453. That the concept of “constituency-based representation” is
different from “proportional representation” has been eloquently
brought out in United Democratic Movement v. President of the Republic
of South Africa where the question before the Supreme Court was:
whether “floor crossing” was fundamental to the Constitution of South
Africa. In this judgment the concept of proportional representation
vis-à-vis constituency-based representation is highlighted…
454. The distinguishing feature between “constituency-based
representation” and “proportional representation” in a representative
democracy is that in the case of the list system of proportional
representation, members are elected on party lines. They are subject
to party discipline. They are liable to be expelled for breach of
discipline. Therefore, to give effect to the concept of proportional
representation, Parliament can suggest “open ballot”. In such a case,
it cannot be said that “free and fair elections” would stand defeated
by “open ballot”. As stated above, in a constituency-based election it
is the people who vote whereas in proportional representation it is
the elector who votes. This distinction is indicated also in the
Australian judgment in R. v. Jones. In constituency-based
representation, “secrecy” is the basis whereas in the case of
proportional representation in a representative democracy the basis
can be “open ballot” and it would not violate the concept of “free and
fair elections”, which concept is one of the pillars of democracy.”
27) The above discussion in the cited paragraphs makes it clear that in
direct elections to Lok Sabha or State Legislatures, maintenance of secrecy
is a must and is insisted upon all over the world in democracies where
direct elections are involved to ensure that a voter casts his vote without
any fear of being victimized if his vote is disclosed.
28) After referring to Section 128 of the RP Act and Rule 39 of the
Rules, this Court in S. Raghbir Singh Gill vs. S. Gurcharan Singh Tohra and
Others 1980 (Supp) SCC 53 held as under:
“14…Secrecy of ballot can be appropriately styled as a postulate of
constitutional democracy. It enshrines a vital principle of
parliamentary institutions set up under the Constitution. It subserves
a very vital public interest in that an elector or a voter should be
absolutely free in exercise of his franchise untrammelled by any
constraint, which includes constraint as to the disclosure. A remote
or distinct possibility that at some point a voter may under a
compulsion of law be forced to disclose for whom he has voted would
act as a positive constraint and check on his freedom to exercise his
franchise in the manner he freely chooses to exercise. Therefore, it
can be said with confidence that this postulate of constitutional
democracy rests on public policy.”

 
29) In the earlier part of this judgment, we have referred to Article
21(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 25(b) of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which also recognize
the right of secrecy.
30) With regard to the first prayer of the petitioners, viz., extension
of principle of secrecy of ballot to those voters who decide not to vote,
Mr. Malhotra, learned ASG submitted that principle of secrecy of ballot is
extended only to those voters who have cast their votes in favour of one or
the other candidates, but the same, in no manner, can be read as extended
to even those voters who have not voted in the election. He further pointed
out that the principle of secrecy of ballot pre-supposes validly cast vote
and the object of secrecy is to assure a voter to allow him to cast his
vote without any fear and in no manner it will be disclosed that in whose
favour he has voted or he will not be compelled to disclose in whose favour
he voted. The pith and substance of his argument is that secrecy of ballot
is a principle which has been formulated to ensure a voter (who has
exercised his right to vote) that in no case it shall be known to the
candidates or their representatives that in whose favour a particular voter
has voted so that he can exercise his right to vote freely and fearlessly.
The stand of the Union of India as projected by learned ASG is that the
principle of secrecy of ballot is extended only to those voters who have
cast their vote and the same in no manner can be extended to those who have
not voted at all.
31) Right to vote as well as right not to vote have been statutorily
recognized under Section 79(d) of the RP Act and Rules 41(2) & (3) and 49-O
of the Rules respectively. Whether a voter decides to cast his vote or
decides not to cast his vote, in both cases, secrecy has to be maintained.
It cannot be said that if a voter decides to cast his vote, secrecy will be
maintained under Section 128 of the RP Act read with Rules 39 and 49M of
the Rules and if in case a voter decides not to cast his vote, secrecy will
not be maintained. Therefore, a part of Rule 49-O read with Form 17-A,
which treats a voter who decides not to cast his vote differently and
allows the secrecy to be violated, is arbitrary, unreasonable and violative
of Article 19 and is also ultra vires Sections 79(d) and 128 of the RP Act.
32) As regards the question as to whether the right of expression under
Article 19 stands infringed when secrecy of the poll is not maintained, it
is useful to refer S. Raghbir Singh (supra) wherein this Court deliberated
on the interpretation of Section 94 of the RP Act which mandates that no
elector can be compelled as a witness to disclose his vote. In that case,
this Court found that the “secrecy of ballots constitutes a postulate of
constitutional democracy…A remote or distinct possibility that the voter at
some point of time may under a compulsion of law be forced to disclose for
whom he has voted would act as a positive constraint and check on his
freedom to exercise his franchise in the manner he freely chooses to
exercise”. Secrecy of ballot, thus, was held to be a privilege granted in
public interest to an individual. It is pertinent to note that in the said
case, the issue of the disclosure by an elector of his vote arose in the
first place because there was an allegation that the postal ballot of an
MLA was tampered with to secure the victory of one of the candidates to the
Rajya Sabha. Therefore, seemingly there was a conflict between the “fair
vote” and “secret ballot”.
33) In Kuldip Nayar (supra), this Court held that though secrecy of
ballots is a vital principle for ensuring free and fair elections, the
higher principle is free and fair elections. However, in the same case,
this Court made a copious distinction between “constituency based
representation” and “proportional representation”. It was held that while
in the former, secrecy is the basis, in the latter the system of open
ballot and it would not be violative of “free and fair elections”. In the
said case, R vs. Jones, (1972) 128 CLR 221 and United Democractic Movement
vs. President of the Republic of South Africa, (2003) 1 SA 495 were also
cited with approval.
34) Therefore, in view of the decisions of this Court in S. Raghubir
Singh Gill (supra) and Kuldip Nayar (supra), the policy is clear that
secrecy principle is integral to free and fair elections which can be
removed only when it can be shown that there is any conflict between
secrecy and the “higher principle” of free elections. The instant case
concerns elections to Central and State Legislatures that are undoubtedly
“constituency based”. No discernible public interest shall be served by
disclosing the elector’s vote or his identity. Therefore, secrecy is an
essential feature of the “free and fair elections” and Rule 49-O
undoubtedly violates that requirement.
35) In Lily Thomas vs. Speaker, Lok Sabha, (1993) 4 SCC 234, this Court
held that “voting is a formal expression of will or opinion by the person
entitled to exercise the right on the subject or issue in question” and
that “right to vote means right to exercise the right in favour of or
against the motion or resolution. Such a right implies right to remain
neutral as well”.
36) In view of the same, this Court also referred to the Practice and
Procedure of the Parliament for voting which provides for three buttons:
viz., AYES, NOES and ABSTAIN whereby a member can abstain or refuse from
expressing his opinion by casting vote in favour or against the motion.
The constitutional interpretation given by this Court was based on inherent
philosophy of parliamentary sovereignty.
37) A perusal of Section 79(d) of the RP Act, Rules 41(2) & (3) and Rule
49-O of the Rules make it clear that a right not to vote has been
recognized both under the RP Act and the Rules. A positive ‘right not to
vote’ is a part of expression of a voter in a parliamentary democracy and
it has to be recognized and given effect to in the same manner as ‘right to
vote’. A voter may refrain from voting at an election for several reasons
including the reason that he does not consider any of the candidates in the
field worthy of his vote. One of the ways of such expression may be to
abstain from voting, which is not an ideal option for a conscientious and
responsible citizen. Thus, the only way by which it can be made effectual
is by providing a button in the EVMs to express that right. This is the
basic requirement if the lasting values in a healthy democracy have to be
sustained, which the Election Commission has not only recognized but has
also asserted.
38) The Law Commission of India, in its 170th Report relating to Reform
of the Electoral Laws recommended for implementation of the concept of
negative vote and also pointed out its advantages.
39) In India, elections traditionally have been held with ballot papers.
As explained by the Election Commission, from 1998 onwards, the Electronic
Voting Machines (EVMs) were introduced on a large scale. Formerly, under
the ballots paper system, it was possible to secretly cast a
neutral/negative vote by going to the polling booth, marking presence and
dropping one’s ballot in the ballot box without making any mark on the
same. However, under the system of EVMs, such secret neutral voting is not
possible, in view of the provision of Rule 49B of the Rules and the design
of the EVM and other related voting procedures. Rule 49B of the Rules
mandates that the names of the candidates shall be arranged on the
balloting unit in the same order in which they appear in the list of
contesting candidates and there is no provision for a neutral button.
40) It was further clarified by the Election Commission that EVM
comprises of two units, i.e. control and balloting units, which are
interconnected by a cable. While the balloting unit is placed in a
screened enclosure where an elector may cast his vote in secrecy, the
control unit remains under the charge of the Presiding Officer and so
placed that all polling agents and others present have an unhindered view
of all the operations. The balloting unit, placed inside the screened
compartment at the polling station gets activated for recording votes only
when the button marked “Ballot” on the control unit is pressed by the
presiding officer/polling officer in charge. Once the ballot button is
pressed, the Control unit emanates red light while the ballot unit which
has been activated to receive the vote emanates green light. Once an
elector casts his vote by pressing balloting button against the candidate
of his choice, he can see a red light glow against the name and symbol of
that candidate and a high-pitched beep sound emanates from the machine.
Upon such casting of vote, the balloting unit is blocked, green light
emanates on the control unit, which is in public gaze, and the high pitched
beep sound is heard by one and all. Thereafter, the EVM has to re-activate
for the next elector by pressing “ballot button”. However, should an
elector choose not to cast his vote in favour of any of the candidates
labeled on the EVM, and consequently, not press any of the labeled button
neither will the light on the control unit change from red to green nor
will the beep sound emanate. Hence, all present in the poll booth at the
relevant time will come to know that a vote has not been cast by the
elector.
41) Rule 49-O of the Rules provides that if an elector, after his
electoral roll number has been entered in the register of electors in Form
17-A, decides not to record his vote on the EVM, a remark to this effect
shall be made against the said entry in Form 17-A by the Presiding Officer
and signature/thumb impression of the elector shall be obtained against
such remark. As is apparent, mechanism of casting vote through EVM and
Rule 49-O compromise on the secrecy of the vote as the elector is not
provided any privacy when the fact of the neutral/negative voting goes into
record.
42) Rules 49A to 49X of the Rules come under Chapter II of Part IV of the
Rules. Chapter II deals with voting by Electronic Voting Machines only.
Therefore, Rule 49-O, which talks about Form 17-A, is applicable only in
cases of voting by EVMs. The said Chapter was introduced in the Rules by
way of an amendment dated 24.03.1992. Voting by ballot papers is governed
by Chapter I of Part IV of the Rules. Rule 39 talks about secrecy while
voting by ballot and Rule 41 talks about ballot papers. However, as said
earlier, in the case of voting by ballot paper, the candidate always had
the option of not putting the cross mark against the names of any of the
candidates and thereby record his disapproval for all the candidates in the
fray. Even though such a ballot paper would be considered as an invalid
vote, the voter still had the right not to vote for anybody without
compromising on his/her right of secrecy. However, with the introduction
of EVMs, the said option of not voting for anybody without compromising the
right of secrecy is not available to the voter since the voting machines
did not have ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) button.
43) It is also pointed out that in order to rectify this serious defect,
on 10.12.2001, the Election Commission addressed a letter to the Secretary,
Ministry of Law and Justice stating, inter alia, that the “electoral right”
under Section 79(d) includes a right not to cast vote and sought to provide
a panel in the EVMs so that an elector may indicate that he does not wish
to vote for any of the aforementioned candidates. The letter also stated
that such number of votes expressing dissatisfaction with all the
candidates may be recorded in a result sheet. It is also brought to our
notice that no action was taken on the said letter dated 10.12.2001.
44) The Election Commission further pointed out that in the larger
interest of promoting democracy, a provision for “None of the Above” or
“NOTA” button should be made in the EVMs/ ballot papers. It is also
highlighted that such an action, apart from promoting free and fair
elections in a democracy, will provide an opportunity to the elector to
express his dissent/disapproval against the contesting candidates and will
have the benefit of reducing bogus voting.
45) Democracy and free elections are part of the basic structure of the
Constitution. In Indira Nehru Gandhi vs. Raj Narain, 1975 Supp 1 SCC 198,
Khanna, J., held that democracy postulates that there should be periodic
elections where the people should be in a position to re-elect their old
representatives or change the representatives or elect in their place new
representatives. It was also held that democracy can function only when
elections are free and fair and the people are free to vote for the
candidates of their choice. In the said case, Article 19 was not in issue
and the observations were in the context of basic structure of the
Constitution. Thereafter, this Court reiterated that democracy is the
basic structure of the Constitution in Mohinder Singh Gill and Another vs.
Chief Election Commissioner, New Delhi and Others, (1978) 1 SCC 405 and
Kihoto Hollohon vs. Zachillhu and Others, 1992 (Supp) 2 SCC 651.
46) In order to protect the right in terms of Section 79(d) and Rule 49-
O, viz., “right not to vote”, we are of the view that this Court is
competent/well within its power to issue directions that secrecy of a voter
who decides not to cast his vote has to be protected in the same manner as
the Statute has protected the right of a voter who decides to cast his
vote in favour of a candidate. This Court is also justified in giving such
directions in order to give effect to the right of expression under Article
19(1)(a) and to avoid any discrimination by directing the Election
Commission to provide NOTA button in the EVMs.
47) With regard to the above, Mr. Malhotra, learned ASG, by drawing our
attention to Section 62 of the RP Act, contended that this Section enables
a person to cast a vote and it has no scope for negative voting. Section
62(1) of the RP Act reads as under:
“62. Right to vote.(1) No person who is not, and except as expressly
provided by this Act, every person who is, for the time being entered
in the electoral roll of any constituency shall be entitled to vote in
that constituency.”

 
48) Mr. Malhotra, learned ASG has also pointed out that elections are
conducted to fill a seat by electing a person by a positive voting in his
favour and there is no concept of negative voting under the RP Act.
According to him, the Act does not envisage that a voter has any right to
cast a negative vote if he does not like any of the candidates. Referring
to Section 2(d) of the RP Act, he asserted that election is only a means of
choice or election between various candidates to fill a seat. Finally, he
concluded that negative voting (NOTA) has no legal consequence and there
shall be no motivation for the voters to travel to the polling booth and
reject all the candidates, which would have the same effect of not going to
the polling station at all.
49) However, correspondingly, we should also appreciate that the election
is a mechanism, which ultimately represents the will of the people. The
essence of the electoral system should be to ensure freedom of voters to
exercise their free choice. Article 19 guarantees all individuals the right
to speak, criticize, and disagree on a particular issue. It stands on the
spirit of tolerance and allows people to have diverse views, ideas and
ideologies. Not allowing a person to cast vote negatively defeats the very
freedom of expression and the right ensured in Article 21 i.e., the right
to liberty.
50) Eventually, voters’ participation explains the strength of the
democracy. Lesser voter participation is the rejection of commitment to
democracy slowly but definitely whereas larger participation is better for
the democracy. But, there is no yardstick to determine what the correct and
right voter participation is. If introducing a NOTA button can increase the
participation of democracy then, in our cogent view, nothing should stop
the same. The voters’ participation in the election is indeed the
participation in the democracy itself. Non-participation causes frustration
and disinterest, which is not a healthy sign of a growing democracy like
India.
Conclusion:
51) Democracy being the basic feature of our constitutional set up,
there can be no two opinions that free and fair elections would alone
guarantee the growth of a healthy democracy in the country. The ‘Fair’
denotes equal opportunity to all people. Universal adult suffrage conferred
on the citizens of India by the Constitution has made it possible for these
millions of individual voters to go to the polls and thus participate in
the governance of our country. For democracy to survive, it is essential
that the best available men should be chosen as people’s representatives
for proper governance of the country. This can be best achieved through men
of high moral and ethical values, who win the elections on a positive vote.
Thus in a vibrant democracy, the voter must be given an opportunity to
choose none of the above (NOTA) button, which will indeed compel the
political parties to nominate a sound candidate. This situation palpably
tells us the dire need of negative voting.
52) No doubt, the right to vote is a statutory right but it is equally
vital to recollect that this statutory right is the essence of democracy.
Without this, democracy will fail to thrive. Therefore, even if the right
to vote is statutory, the significance attached with the right is massive.
Thus, it is necessary to keep in mind these facets while deciding the issue
at hand.
53) Democracy is all about choice. This choice can be better expressed by
giving the voters an opportunity to verbalize themselves unreservedly and
by imposing least restrictions on their ability to make such a choice. By
providing NOTA button in the EVMs, it will accelerate the effective
political participation in the present state of democratic system and the
voters in fact will be empowered. We are of the considered view that in
bringing out this right to cast negative vote at a time when electioneering
is in full swing, it will foster the purity of the electoral process and
also fulfill one of its objective, namely, wide participation of people.
54) Free and fair election is a basic structure of the Constitution and
necessarily includes within its ambit the right of an elector to cast his
vote without fear of reprisal, duress or coercion. Protection of elector’s
identity and affording secrecy is therefore integral to free and fair
elections and an arbitrary distinction between the voter who casts his vote
and the voter who does not cast his vote is violative of Article 14. Thus,
secrecy is required to be maintained for both categories of persons.
55) Giving right to a voter not to vote for any candidate while
protecting his right of secrecy is extremely important in a democracy.
Such an option gives the voter the right to express his disapproval with
the kind of candidates that are being put up by the political parties.
When the political parties will realize that a large number of people are
expressing their disapproval with the candidates being put up by them,
gradually there will be a systemic change and the political parties will be
forced to accept the will of the people and field candidates who are known
for their integrity.
56) The direction can also be supported by the fact that in the existing
system a dissatisfied voter ordinarily does not turn up for voting which in
turn provides a chance to unscrupulous elements to impersonate the
dissatisfied voter and cast a vote, be it a negative one. Furthermore, a
provision of negative voting would be in the interest of promoting
democracy as it would send clear signals to political parties and their
candidates as to what the electorate think about them.
57) As mentioned above, the voting machines in the Parliament have three
buttons, namely, AYES, NOES, and ABSTAIN. Therefore, it can be seen that
an option has been given to the members to press the ABSTAIN button.
Similarly, the NOTA button being sought for by the petitioners is exactly
similar to the ABSTAIN button since by pressing the NOTA button the voter
is in effect saying that he is abstaining from voting since he does not
find any of the candidates to be worthy of his vote.
58) The mechanism of negative voting, thus, serves a very fundamental and
essential part of a vibrant democracy. The following countries have
provided for neutral/protest/negative voting in their electoral systems:
|S.No |Name of the Country |Method of Voting |Form of Negative |
| | | |Vote |
|1. |France |Electronic |NOTA |
|2. |Belgium |Electronic |NOTA |
|3. |Brazil |Ballot Paper |NOTA |
|4. |Greece |Ballot Paper |NOTA |
|5. |Ukraine |Ballot Paper |NOTA |
|6. |Chile |Ballot Paper |NOTA |
|7. |Bangladesh |Ballot Paper |NOTA |
|8. |State of Nevada, USA |Ballot Paper |NOTA |
|9. |Finland |Ballot Paper |Blank Vote and/or|
| | | |‘write in*’ |
|10. |Sweden |Ballot Paper |Blank Vote and/or|
| | | |‘write in*’ |
|11. |United States of |Electronic/Ballot |Blank Vote and/or|
| |America |(Depending on |‘write in*’ |
| | |State) | |
|12. |Colombia |Ballot Paper |Blank Vote |
|13. |Spain |Ballot Paper |Blank Vote |
* Write-in’ – The ‘write-in’ form of negative voting allows a voter to cast
a vote in favour of any fictional name/candidate.
59) The Election Commission also brought to the notice of this Court that
the present electronic voting machines can be used in a constituency where
the number of contesting candidates is up to 64. However, in the event of
there being more than 64 candidates in the poll fray, the conventional
system of ballot paper is resorted to. Learned counsel appearing for the
Election Commission also asserted through supplementary written submission
that the Election Commission of India is presently exploring the
possibility of developing balloting unit with 200 panels. Therefore, it was
submitted that if in case this Court decides to uphold the prayers of the
petitioners herein, the additional panel on the balloting unit after the
last panel containing the name and election symbol of the last contesting
candidate can be utilized as the NOTA button. Further, it was explicitly
asserted in the written submission that the provision for the above
facility for a negative or neutral vote can be provided in the existing
electronic voting machines without any additional cost or administrative
effort or change in design or technology of the existing machines. For
illustration, if there are 12 candidates contesting an election, the 13th
panel on the balloting unit will contain the words like “None of the above”
and the ballot button against this panel will be kept open and the elector
who does not wish to vote for any of the abovementioned 12 contesting
candidates, can press the button against the 13th panel and his vote will
be accordingly recorded by the control unit. At the time of the counting,
the votes recorded against serial number 13 will indicate as to how many
electors have decided not to vote for any candidate.
60) Taking note of the submissions of Election Commission, we are of the
view that the implementation of the NOTA button will not require much
effort except for allotting the last panel in the EVM for the same.
61) In the light of the above discussion, we hold that Rules 41(2) & (3)
and 49-O of the Rules are ultra vires Section 128 of the RP Act and Article
19(1)(a) of the Constitution to the extent they violate secrecy of voting.
In view of our conclusion, we direct the Election Commission to provide
necessary provision in the ballot papers/EVMs and another button called
“None of the Above” (NOTA) may be provided in EVMs so that the voters, who
come to the polling booth and decide not to vote for any of the candidates
in the fray, are able to exercise their right not to vote while maintaining
their right of secrecy. Inasmuch as the Election Commission itself is in
favour of the provision for NOTA in EVMs, we direct the Election Commission
to implement the same either in a phased manner or at a time with the
assistance of the Government of India. We also direct the Government of
India to provide necessary help for implementation of the above direction.
Besides, we also direct the Election Commission to undertake awareness
programmes to educate the masses.
62) The writ petition is disposed of with the aforesaid directions.

 

……….…………………………CJI.
(P. SATHASIVAM)

 
………….…………………………J.
(RANJANA PRAKASH DESAI)

 

………….…………………………J.
(RANJAN GOGOI)

 

NEW DELHI;
SEPTEMBER 27, 2013.
———————–
50

 

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