Despite apex court order, servicemen posted in State won't be able to vote

Despite apex court order, servicemen posted in State won't be able to vote

Chief electoral officer says defence personnel cannot enrol as registration process is over.

Thousands of defence personnel posted in Karnataka will not be able to vote when the State goes to polls on April 17, notwithstanding the March 24 order of the Supreme Court that they are entitled to exercise franchise at the place of their posting. Anil Kumar Jha, Chief Electoral Officer, Karnataka, said that by the time the order reached them, the voter registration process had concluded in Bangalore. Moreover, many servicemen have already registered to vote through postal ballot. 

Arrangements for postal ballot have been made for 40,929 service voters, comprising mainly of defence personnel. Jha further said that the postal ballots would be sent by speed post so that they reached in time. In the said order, the Supreme Court ruled that servicemen be allowed to vote at their place of posting (‘peace stations’ where there are no active conflicts). Their family members were also entitled to vote in the same manner. 

The court also overruled a 2008 order of the Election Commission of India (ECI) which held that a serviceman is required to have served at least three years at one place of posting to be eligible to vote there. The apex court gave the order on two PILs filed by Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the Rajya Sabha MP from Bangalore Urban constituency, and advocate Neela Gokhale. 

“For the last 40 years, there has been an apathy on the part of the ECI which never deemed it important that the defence personnel should also be able to cast their vote,” Chandrasekhar told Deccan Herald. “But this landmark order will ensure servicemen are able to vote at their place of posting. Even though not all servicemen will benefit from the order this time, at least two-third of them will get justice as a large number of constituencies will go to polls later.” 

Around 40 per cent of the 13 lakh-strong Indian Army personnel are posted at ‘peace stations’. Bangalore is one such station where roughly about 30,000 servicemen, including paramilitary personnel, are posted. Some servicemen told this newspaper on the condition of anonymity that they were keen on voting in Bangalore after the SC order but had not received any communication in this regard from the electoral office so far. 

As per the instructions laid down for voter enrolment, the local area commanders have been instructed to depute an officer to coordinate with the Returning Officer appointed by the ECI in the district concerned. All servicemen posted at peace stations since January 1, 2014 can enrol as voters of the constituencies concerned, provided they have not opted to vote through postal ballot or proxy voting.