Soldiers in 200 peace stations in hinterland to get voting rights

Even though the Supreme Court ruling on the voting rights of armed forces personnel may have limited impact in 2014, it will empower soldiers posted in close to 200 peace stations located in the hinterland.

The peace stations are situated away from the border with infrastructure facilities and family accommodation. The army maintains a list of these stations, which will be shared with the Election Commission in the next two days.

Almost 60 per cent of the troops – more than 7 lakh soldiers – are posted in the peace station and would be benefited by the order, army sources told Deccan Herald.

In the 2014 polls, the impact, however, would be limited because the registration of defence personnel for postal ballot has been completed in 225 constituencies. As a result, the Supreme Court asked the EC to register defence personnel as a voter in the remaining constituencies.

“The biggest problem with postal ballot is that it never comes on time,” said an Army officer.

Going by the existing rules, a soldier can not register himself as a voter in a constituency if he is not posted there for three years and if he is not staying with his family. For any other citizen, the duration is only six months.

But there was an exception. In 1969, personnel of 12 Assam Rifles posted in Wokha in Nagaland, had approached the electoral officer and got themselves registered as voters. They exercised their franchise as ordinary citizens.

The losing candidate challenged the results in Guwahati High Court, arguing that the soldiers could not vote as they were not residents of the constituency but only posted there.

The High Court, in 1969, upheld the election results stating that defence personnel could register themselves at their places of postings like any other citizen and vote.

The losing candidate subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court in 1971, but the apex court dismissed the appeal.

During the legal battle, the Election Commission, on its part, defended registering the soldiers as voters at their place of posting.

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