NEW DELHI: In a landmark judgement on Friday, the Supreme Court for the first time allowed voters to cast negative vote by pressing a button saying none of the candidates is worthy of his vote.
The SC asked the Election Commission to provide None Of The Above (NOTA) button on EVMs and ballot papers.
The apex court said the right to vote and the right to say NOTA are both part of basic right of voters.
“When a large number of voters will press NOTA button, it will force political parties to choose better candidates. Negative voting would lead to systemic change in polls,” the apex bench observed.
The bench also observed that implementation of NOTA option was akin to ‘abstain option’ given to MPs and MLAs during voting in respective houses.
The SC directed the EC to start implementing NOTA button on EVMs forthwith in a phased manner and asked the Centre to render all assistance.
A bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam said that negative voting would foster purity and vibrancy of elections and ensure wide participation as people who are not satisfied with the candidates in the fray would also turn up to express their opinion rejecting contestants.
The bench noted that the concept of negative voting is prevalent in 13 countries and even in India, parliamentarians are given an option to press the button for abstaining while voting takes place in the House.
The court said right to reject candidates in elections is part of fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression given by the Constitution to Indian citizens.
It said that democracy is all about choice and significance of right of citizens to cast negative voting is massive.
With the concept of negative voting, the voters who are dissatisfied with the candidates in the fray would turn up in large number to express their opinion which would put unscrupulous elements and impersonators out of the polls, it said.
The bench, while reading out the operative portion of the judgement, did not throw light on a situation in case the votes cast under no option head outnumber the votes got by the candidates.
It said that secrecy of votes cast under the no option category must be maintained by the Election Commission.
The court passed the order on a PIL filed by an NGO, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) which had submitted that voters be given the right to negative voting.
Agreeing with the NGO’s plea, the bench passed the path-breaking verdict and introduced the concept of negative voting in the election process, saying that it would further empower the voters in exercising their franchise.
The latest verdict is part of series of judgements passed by the apex court on the election process.
Earlier, the apex court had restrained people in custody from contesting elections.
The apex court has also ruled that MPs and MLAs would stand disqualified after being convicted of serious crimes. The government has brought an ordinance seeking to negate the court’s judgement striking down a provision in the electoral law that protected convicted lawmakers from immediate disqualification.
A two-judge bench of the apex court had felt that the issue on negative voting needed to be adjudicated by a larger bench as there were certain doubts over the interpretation of the ruling passed by a Constitution Bench in the Kuldip Nayar Vs Union of India case relating to a voter’s right.
Under the existing provisions of Section 49(O) of the Representation of People Act, a voter who after coming to a polling booth does not want to cast his vote, has to inform the presiding officer of his intention not to vote, who in turn would make an entry in the relevant rule book after taking the signature of the said elector.
According to the PUCL, Section 49(O) was violative of the constitutional provisions guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) (Freedom of Speech and Expression) and Article 21 (Right to Liberty) and violated the concept of secret ballot.
(With inputs from PTI)