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Plea to allow postal ballot: Only 31% of 10 crore 'long distance' migrants able to vote

By Our Representative
Several civil rights groups have represented to the Election Commission of India (ECI) to declare migrant labourers as ‘notified electors’ in order to give them the right to cast their vote through the postal ballot. They have regretted that “the attendant ills of hegemony, money power in politics, class, caste and community interests” have overshadowed the migrants’ “Constitutional right”, excluding them simply because they work “away from home.”
Citing under Section 60(c) of the Representation of People Act (RPA), 1951, the representation, made, among others, by the Citizens for Justice & Peace (CJP), led by well-known human rights activist Teesta Sitalvad, and the Lok Shakti Abhiyan, led by Prafulla Samantara, awarded the Green Nobel, Godman Environmental Prize, says, the migrants’ right to exercise their “democratic” right, unfortunately, is yet to become become part of the “political discourse” be it of the ruling party or the opposition.
While lately they have variously termed as “guest workers,” and “pravasi kamgars”, the representation their their plight is particularly visible amidst “the sheer scale of the human tragedy that the Covid-19 pandemic-driven lockdown”, which has made the migrants “victim of living under the insecurity of being paid only daily wages, with no security (leave alone insurance) in living conditions, in health, or against hunger, has brought their living conditions in the limelight.”
Citing official data, the representation says, the Census 2011 puts the number of “internal migrants” at 45 crore, a 45% surge from the earlier census of 2001. Among these, 26% of the migration, i.e., 11.7 crore, are inter-district same state migrants, while 12%, i.e., 5.4 crore, are inter-state migrants. However, the representation believes, “Most experts, including surveys authorised by the government, estimate that this number is underestimated.”
Stating that “circular migration accounts for those migrants that have not permanently relocated to the host cities, and instead circulate between host and home cities”, the representation cites studies to say that these could be 6-6.5 crore people, and accounting for family members, the representation estimates, these numbers “could approach 10 crore, of which half are inter-state migrants.”
Pointing out that survey data also show migrant labourers are “mainly from rural areas in poor regions and belong to the poorest socio-economic classes, including SC/STs and OBCs, and Other Minorities, who are often uneducated, lacking in assets, lands and specialized skills”, the representation says, “As of 2011, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were the largest source of inter-state migrants, with 83 lakh and 63 lakh migrants respectively.” 
Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were the largest source of inter-state migrants, with 83 lakh and 63 lakh migrants respectively
“While Maharashtra and Delhi were the largest receiver states”, the representation says, “In their host cities, migrant labourers work primarily in the informal sectors such as construction, textiles and other small industries, often working and living in precarious conditions and facing discrimination.” However, it adds, “Owing to their roots and residences at their home cities, most migrant voters have their voter cards for their home constituency.”
Prafulla Samantara, Teesta Setalvad
Thus, the representation says, “A 2012 study demonstrated that 78% of migrant labourers surveyed possessed voter ID cards and had their names present on voting lists of their home cities.” The result is, only 48% of the migrants surveyed voted in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections as compared to the national average of 59.7%. Further, only 31% long distance migrants could, it underlines, adding, this pattern has “stayed consistent” in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
“Additionally”, the representation says, “Given the nature of migration is circular and seasonal, the migrants are not permanent/long-term residents of the host cities and will not satisfy the requirements of being an ‘ordinary resident’ under Section 20 of the RPA in the host state to obtain voter cards and are therefore unable to transfer their constituency.” Thus, it has been found that “only 10% of migrant labourers surveyed possessed voter IDs in their host cities.”
Given this framework, the representation pleads with the ECI to “innovate” by ensuring that elections are accessible to all Indians, “regardless of class, caste or economic status”, noting how it has already “enabled flexible forms of voting by introduction of postal ballots for persons unable to vote at their registered constituency, special voters, service voters, voters on special duty, which refers to interalia persons serving in the army, other defence personnel including their spouses.”
Thus, in October 2019 ECI asked the Union ministry of law and justice to notify a new category of “absentee voters” for allowing postal ballot to those above the age of 80 and persons with disabilities. In January 2020 it recommended providing providing the facility to other “essential workers” – those working with the Railways, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation and media persons authorized to be covering the elections.
Also referring to the ECI’s 2015 recommendation allowing the use of electronic ballots to enable over 31 million (3.1 crore) Non-Resident Indians “with the aim of enabling their participation in the democratic process of elections in their motherland and boost their participation in nation-building”, the representation insists, given this framework, migrant labourers should not be “excluded from exercising their franchise”. Their exclusion, it adds, would be “not just about the political exclusion” but of “democracy itself.”

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