The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) pushing the campaign for "Voting Facilities for the Migrant Workers" when five states including Assam are going to Assembly polls is a timely intervention. Lack of an accepted definition of migrant workers in India continues to be the stumbling block for evolving a mechanism to enable them to exercise their franchise from their place of work. The migrant workers cannot afford to travel back to their home states to exercise their franchise and most of them cannot take part in the voting on the polling day. The postal ballot system is available only for the government employees and employees of armed forces. The ADR studies reveal that several crores of migrant residents of India remain deprived of voting right. The political exclusion of such a huge population of the country due to lack of arrangement for them to exercise their franchise is not healthy for Indian democracy. The nationwide lockdown revealed that lakhs of migrant workers from Assam work in different states and most of them will not be able to take part in the voting. While several thousand managed to return after being without job and income for days and months, majority of them have gone back to work places after the country gradually unlocked and industrial units, construction, and other works in which they were engaged as temporary or seasonal workers opened. The ADR has also been flagging the issue that while steps are being taken to enable about 60 to 70 lakhs Non-Resident Indians to vote, about 20 crores of migrant residents in the country continue to be deprived from exercising their voting rights. The Election Commission of India constituted a committee to go into the issue and held consultations with the political parties. The issue was also discussed on the floors of Parliament. However, the Central government, political parties and the Election Commission of India have not been able to hammer out a solution. Proposal for extending postal ballot facilities for migrant workers came up during these consultation process. There are several technical and legal issues including issues of security of postal ballots and imposition of code of conduct. However, the ECI has enabled the Kashmiri migrants of Kashmir and Bru refugees in Tripura to cast postal ballots from temporary polling arrangements in the refugee camps. All migrant electors in these refugee camps can post their application forms and later on their marked postal ballot papers in the special letter boxes which will be available at the offices of the Assistant Returning Officers. In terms of Section 60(c) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, the Election Commission, in consultation with the Central Government notified the Bru/Reang migrants belonging to Mizoram Parliamentary Constituency and presently settled outside the place of their ordinary residences, as notified class of voters, for the purpose of facilitating the exercise of their franchise in the aforesaid general election through postal ballot and postal ballot only, stated the EC notification. Similar arrangement can also be made in respect of migrant workers who are away from their home states and cannot afford because of economic condition to return home simply for casting votes. Participating in a webinar on the issue organised by the ADR, former Chief Election Commissioners, S. Y. Quraishi, O.P. Rawat highlighted the practical problem of imposition of model code of conduct in respect of migrant voters in the state where they work as Assembly polls are held in different time. Without the imposition of model code of conduct the migrant workers, while exercising their franchise through whatever mechanism is arranged, may be subjected to pressure or allurement by parties and candidates. Former Chief Election Commissioner Naseem Zaidi came up with the view that once the definition of migrant residents of India is decided finding a technical solution to enable them to vote will not be an issue. Requirement of residency papers is believed to be one of the primary reasons behind reluctance of among migrant workers to register as voter in the cities or towns far away from their home state in which they earn their livelihood as seasonal or temporary workers. The remittances they send to home state have been contributing hugely to rural household economy, particularly in agriculture sector. It is unfortunate the government and the society in their home state forget their presence and importance once they migrate out of their village in search of greener pastures. The Election Commission appeals to voters by saying "Cast your Vote. Your vote counts." The toughest challenge before the commission is to ensure that every vote of every migrant worker also counts, and they do not remain the forgotten voters forever. The issue of enabling migrant workers to vote from wherever they are should get equal importance as enabling the NRI voters abroad to cast vote.

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