The Gujarat government's law to make voting compulsory in local body polls in Gujarat has failed to impress the Election Commission which believes that extending the idea across the country is 'impractical'.
"Such proposals have come up for discussion in the Commission on many occasions earlier. For India, it is full of difficulties. We also consider that democracy and compulsion do not go hand-in-hand," Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi said.
Pointing out that 40 per cent of the 714 million voters in the country do not vote, he said people not coming out to exercise their franchise was a matter of concern to the Commission. However, voter education could be a better option to enthuse voters and the Commission is engaged in roping in youth, particularly college and school students, to enhance voter awareness.
"It is a good idea, a noble idea, a welcome move. But whether it is possible to implement such an idea across India is doubtful," said former senior EC official K J Rao.
Because of the compulsory law, the percentage of voter turnout may increase, but effective implementation would be impractical, said Rao. He wanted to know how the measure would be put into practice and whether a voter will be fined and jailed for non-compliance.
Noting that 13 of the 32 countries, where voting has been made compulsory, were not enforcing the law, he said launching an awareness campaign among people to exercise their franchise could be more effective.
Another EC official, who did not want to be identified, asked how the law could be implemented among the poor who would prefer "feeding their children to voting in an election.
"Will you jail them for not voting," he queried.
Last week, the Gujarat assembly passed the Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Bill, which makes, for the first time in the country, voting mandatory in civic body and panchayat polls.
Under the bill, if a voter fails to vote for the reasons other than prescribed in the rules, he may be declared a 'defaulter voter' and would face legal consequences.