Report No. 255
A. Compulsory Voting in India: History and Context
9.3. Compulsory voting was first considered by the Parliament in 1950 during the enactment of the RP Act. Nevertheless, citing practical difficulties in implementation, it was rejected (led by members such as Dr. B.R. Ambedkar).
9.4. Then the Dinesh Goswami Committee in 1990 considered the question of making "voting compulsory" to increase voter turnouts. However, the Committee rejected the idea based on "the practical difficulties involved in its implementation".379
379. Goswami Committee Report, supra note 113, at para 11.4, page 38
9.5. Subsequently, in 2001, the Consultation Paper of the NCRWC on Electoral Reforms again considered, and rejected the proposal for compulsory voting, noting that it would "not be feasible or advisable at present [given that] in our situation, there may be several management and legal enforceability problems and difficult questions of penalty for not voting." 380
380. NCRWC Consultation Paper, supra note 93, at para 17.1
9.6. The Tarkunde Committee noted that:
"We have seriously considered the desirability of making it compulsory for voters to cast their votes in these elections. It appears to us that compulsory voting may be resented by the voters and may on balance prove counter-productive. It is desirable that compliance with the duty to cast one's vote should be brought about by persuasion and political education, rather than compulsion. Moreover, the implementation of a law of compulsory voting is likely to be very difficult and may lead to abuse".381
381. Tarkunde Committee, Report of The Committee on Election Expenses, para 18,
9.7. Pursuant to this, the issue of compulsory voting was discussed in Parliament in 2004 and 2009, when two Private Members Bill introduced a bill to that effect. In 2004, Mr. B.S. Rawat introduced the Compulsory Voting Bill, 2004 "to provide for compulsory voting by the electorate in the country and for matters connected therewith, be taken into consideration."382
The Bill was defeated by citing various arguments, inter alia, the coercive nature of the provision; respecting the active decision of some voters to not engage with the democratic process; the inability to reach the polling booths; personal circumstances; and the difficulty of implementation.383 In 2009, Mr. J.P. Agarwal tabled another bill on compulsory voting, requiring the State to concomitantly provide polling booths at convenient locations and making special arrangements for elderly, disabled, and pregnant voters.384
However, the then Law Minister Mr. Moily cautioned against such a move observing that it was coercive; difficult for the government to implement; and ignorant of causes of non-voting such as illness, preoccupation, and use of force by political parties. The Bill was later withdrawn.385
382. Motion for Consideration of the Compulsory voting Bill, Lok Sabha Debates,
384. Compulsory voting in India, Sakal Times, 16th November 2014
385. Government Expresses Inability to Enforce Compulsory voting, THE HINDU, 13th August 2010,
9.8. Finally, Mr. Atul Saronde petitioned the Supreme Court vide a PIL, urging it make voting compulsory to counter low voter turnouts and to ensure the 'representativeness' of the elected governments.
On the question of penalties for failure to vote, Mr. Saronde suggested that the government disconnect electricity and water supplies and levy fines on the defaulting voters. Dismissing the petition in April, 2009, the two-judge bench of Chief Justice Balakrishnan and Justice Sathasivam said, "We are not agreeable to your suggestion that electricity and water connection should be cut if anyone does not vote. These are inhuman methods to make a voter go to the polling booth".386
386. Dhananjaya Mahapatra, SC Rejects Plea to Make Voting Compulsory, The Times of India, 18th April 2009,
<http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Supreme-Court-rejects-plea-tomake-voting-compulsory/articleshow/4415484.cms>; S.Y. Qureshi, Compulsion Won't Work: Voter Education Key To Participation, HINDUSTAN TIMES, 19th November 2014,
9.9. Recently, the Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2009 was introduced and (now) passed introducing compulsory voting at local-level elections such as at the Municipality, Municipal Corporation, and Panchayat level.
9.10. The history of compulsory voting proposals provides an adequate context within which to situate the larger debate about the appropriateness of compulsory voting, with specific reference to India.