Gujarat introduces Compulsory Law for voting in local polls

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Ahmedabad, June 15: You cannot escape voting in Gujarat anymore as the state government has decided to implement a law to force its citizens to vote or face punishment.

Criticised by activists, the law will make voting compulsory in municipal and panchayat elections later this year.

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Involving millions of voters, Gujarat may be the first state in the country to implement this.

A senior state government official said,"Chief minister Anandiben Patel decided to go ahead with it in the local body elections. She felt that there was no point sitting over it after the assembly passed the law and the governor has given his nod."

Initially turned down by Kamla Beniwal, the predecessor of OP Kohli, the law was finally sanctioned in 2009. Beniwal had argued that the law violated Article 19(A) of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression, including the right not to vote.

The new law enables the state election commission to declare an absentee as a "defaulter", except in the case of illness or if he is out of station.

It also says that an absentee voter will face penal action. Lawyers and activists have criticised the move stating that it will affect the poor.

Senior Gujarat HC lawyer Nirupam Nanavaty said, "A citizen cannot be compelled to vote. In a democratic system, such compulsion is anti-democracy."

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