Judgement Copy Citizens of India right to reject in elections


1)      The  present  writ  petition,   under   Article   32  of   the Constitution of India, has been filed by the petitioners herein challenging  the constitutional  validity of  Rules 41(2)  &  (3) and 49-O of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 (in short ‘the Rules’) to the extent that these provisions violate the secrecy of  voting  which is fundamental  to the free  and fair elections and is required  to be maintained  as per Section 128 of  the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (in short ‘the RP Act’) and Rules 39 and 49-M of the Rules.

2)      The petitioners  herein  have preferred  this  petition for the issuance  of  a  writ or  direction(s)  of  like nature  on the ground that though the above said Rules, viz., Rules 41(2) & (3)  and 49-O, recognize  the right  of  a voter not to vote but still the secrecy  of  his  having  not voted is not maintained  in its  implementation  and  thus  the  impugned  rules,  to  the extent of  such violation of  the right to secrecy, are not only ultra vires to the said Rules but also violative of Articles 19(1) (a) and 21 of  the Constitution of  India besides International Covenants.

3)      In the above backdrop, the petitioners herein prayed for declaring  Rules 41(2) & (3)  and 49-O of the Rules ultra vires and unconstitutional  and also prayed for  a direction to the Election  Commission  of  India-Respondent  No. 2  herein,  to provide necessary provision in the ballot papers  as well as in the electronic voting machines for  the protection of the right of  not to vote in order to keep  the  exercise  of  such right  a secret under the existing  RP  Act/the  Rules or  under Article 324 of the Constitution.

4)      On 23.02.2009, a Division Bench  of  this  Court, on an objection with regard to maintainability of the writ petition on the ground that right to vote is not a fundamental right but is a  statutory right,   after   considering   Union  of  India   vs. Association  for Democratic  Reforms and Anr. (2002) 5
SCC 294 and People’s  Union for Civil Liberties vs. Union of  India  (2003)  4  SCC   399  held  that  even  though the judgment  in Kuldip  Nayar  &  Ors. vs. Union of India  & Ors. (2006) 7 SCC 1 did not overrule or  discard the ratio laid down in the judgments mentioned  above, however, it creates a doubt in this regard, referred  the matter to a larger  Bench to arrive at a decision.

5)      One Centre for  Consumer Education and Association for Democratic Reforms have filed applications  for  impleadment in this Writ Petition. Impleadment applications are allowed.

6)      Heard  Mr. Rajinder Sachhar,  learned  senior  counsel  for the petitioners, Mr. P.P. Malhotra, learned Additional Solicitor General for  the  Union of  India-Respondent No. 1 herein, Ms. Meenakshi     Arora,     learned     counsel     for      the   Election Commission  of  India-Respondent  No. 2  herein,  Ms  Kamini Jaiswal  and  Mr. Raghenth  Basant, learned  counsel  for   the impleading parties.

Contentions:

7)     Mr. Rajinder Sachhar, learned senior counsel for the petitioners,   by   taking   us   through   various    provisions, particularly,  Section 128 of  the RP  Act as  well as  Rules  39,
41,  49-M and  49-O of  the  Rules submitted that  in terms  of Rule 41(2) of the Rules, an elector has a right not to vote but still the  secrecy  of  his  having  not  voted  is not  maintained under  Rules 41(2) and  (3)  thereof.    He further  pointed  out that similarly according to Rule 49-O of the Rules, the right of a voter who decides  not to vote has been accepted but the secrecy  is not  maintained.    According  to him,  in case  an elector decides not to record his vote, a remark to this effect shall  be made against  the said  entry in Form  17-A by  the Presiding  Officer and the signature or  thumb impression  of the elector shall be obtained against  such remark.  Hence, if a voter decides  not to vote, his  record will be maintained  by the Presiding Officer which will  thereby disclose that he has decided  not to vote.   The main  substance of  the arguments of  learned  senior counsel for  the petitioners is that  though right  not to vote is recognized  by Rules 41 and 49-O of  the Rules and  is also  a part of  the freedom of  expression of  a voter, if a voter chooses to exercise the said  right,  it has to be kept secret.   Learned  senior  counsel  further submitted that both the above provisions, to the extent of such violation of   the  secrecy  clause  are   not  only  ultra  vires  but  also contrary to Section  128 of  the RP Act,  Rules 39 and  49-M of the   Rules  as   well  as   Articles   19(1)(a)  and  21  of   the Constitution.

8)      On the other  hand,  Mr. P.P. Malhotra, learned Additional Solicitor General appearing for  the  Union of  India submitted that the right  to vote  is neither  a fundamental  right  nor a constitutional right nor a common law right but is a pure and simple  statutory right.    He asserted that neither  the RP  Act nor the  Constitution of  India  declares  the right  to vote as anything  more than a statutory right  and hence the present writ petition is not maintainable.   He further pointed out that in view of  the decision of  the Constitution Bench in Kuldip Nayar (supra), the reference  for  deciding  the same by a larger  Bench was unnecessary.   He further pointed  out that in view of the above decision, the earlier two decisions of this Court, viz., Association for Democratic Reforms and Another (supra)  and People’s  Union for Civil Liberties (supra),  stood impliedly  overruled,  hence,  on this  ground also reference to a larger Bench was not required.  He further pointed  out that though the power of  Election Commission under Article 324 of the Constitution is wide enough, but still the same  can, in no manner, be construed as to cover those areas, which are already covered by the statutory provisions. He further pointed out that even from the existing provisions, it is clear that secrecy of ballot is a principle which has been formulated to ensure  that in no case it shall be known to the candidates  or  their  representatives that in whose  favour a particular voter has voted so that he can exercise his right to vote freely and fearlessly.   He also pointed out that the right of secrecy has been extended to only those voters who have exercised their right to vote and the same, in no manner, can be extended to those who have not voted at all.  Finally, he submitted that since Section 2(d) of  the RP  Act specifically defines “election” to mean an election to fill a seat,  it cannot be construed as an election not to fill a seat.

9)      Ms. Meenakshi Arora, learned counsel appearing for  the Election Commission of  India – Respondent No. 2 herein, by pointing  out various provisions both from the RP Act and  the Rules submitted  that inasmuch  as  secrecy  is an  essential feature of “free and fair elections”, Rules 41(2) & (3)  and 49- O of the Rules violate the requirement of secrecy.

10)   Ms. Kamini  Jaiswal  and  Mr. Raghenth  Basant, learned counsel appearing for  the impleading parties, while agreeing with  the  stand  of   the petitioners   as  well as  the  Election Commission of  India,  prayed that necessary directions  may be issued  for   providing  another button viz., “None  of  the Above” (NOTA)  in the  Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) so that the voters who come to the polling booth and decide not to vote for  any of  the candidates, are able to exercise their right not to vote while maintaining their right of secrecy.

11)   We have carefully considered  the rival submissions and perused the relevant provisions of the RP Act and  the  Rules.

Discussion:

12)  In  order to answer the above contentions, it is vital  to refer to the relevant provisions of  the RP Act and  the  Rules. Sections 79(d) and 128 of the RP Act read as under:

“79(d)–“electoral  right”  means the right  of  a person to stand or  not to stand as, or  to withdraw or  not to withdraw from being,  a candidate,  or  to vote or  refrain  from voting at an election.

128  –   Maintenance  of  secrecy  of  voting–(1) Every officer,  clerk,  agent or   other  person  who performs  any duty in connection  with the recording  or  counting  of  votes at an election shall maintain, and aid in maintaining, the secrecy  of   the  voting and  shall   not  (except  for   some purpose authorized by or  under  any law) communicate to any  person  any  information  calculated  to  violate  such secrecy:

Provided that  the  provisions  of  this sub-section shall  not apply  to  such  officer, clerk,  agent  or   other  person  who performs any such duty at an election to fill a seat or  seats in the Council of States.

(2)  Any   person  who contravenes  the  provisions  of   sub- section  (1) shall  be punishable  with  imprisonment  for   a term which may extend to three  months or  with fine or with both.”

Rules  39(1),  41,  49-M and  49-O of  the  Rules read  as under:

“39. Maintenance  of secrecy  of voting by electors within  polling  station   and  voting   procedure.–(1) Every  elector  to whom a  ballot  paper has been issued under rule 38 or  under any other  provision of  these rules, shall  maintain  secrecy of  voting within the  polling station and  for    that   purpose  observe  the   voting  procedure hereinafter laid down.

41.    Spoilt and returned ballot papers.–(1) An elector who has inadvertently dealt with his ballot paper  in such manner  that  it cannot  be  conveniently  used  as  a  ballot paper may, on returning it to the presiding officer and on satisfying him of the inadvertence, be given another ballot paper, and the ballot paper so returned and the counterfoil of  such ballot  paper shall  be marked “Spoilt: cancelled”  by the presiding officer.

(2) If an elector  after  obtaining  a ballot  paper decides not to use it, he shall  return it to the presiding  officer, and the ballot paper so returned and the counterfoil of  such ballot paper shall  be  marked  as  “Returned:  cancelled”  by  the presiding officer.

(3) All ballot  papers cancelled  under sub-rule (1) or  sub- rule (2) shall be kept in a separate packet.

49M. Maintenance  of secrecy  of voting by electors within the polling station and voting procedures.–(1) Every elector  who has been permitted to vote under rule
49L  shall  maintain  secrecy  of   voting  within the  polling station and for  that purpose observe the voting  procedure hereinafter laid down.

(2)  Immediately  on being  permitted to vote the  elector shall proceed to the presiding officer or  the polling officer incharge  of  the control  unit  of  the  voting machine  who shall,  by pressing  the appropriate  button on the  control unit, activate the balloting unit; for  recording of  elector’s vote.

(3) The elector shall thereafter forthwith– (a) proceed to the voting compartment;
(b) record his vote by pressing the button on the balloting unit  against  the name and symbol  of  the candidate  for whom he intends to vote; and

(c)   come out of  the  voting compartment and leave  the polling station.

(4) Every elector shall vote without undue delay.

(5)  No   elector   shall   be  allowed   to  enter  the  voting compartment when another elector is inside it.

(6) If an elector who has been permitted to vote under rule
49L   or    rule   49P  refuses   after   warning   given   by  the presiding  officer to  observe  the  procedure   laid  down  in sub-rule  (3) of  the said  rules,  the presiding  officer  or   a polling officer under  the  direction of  the presiding officer shall not allow such elector to vote.

(7) Where an elector is not allowed to vote under sub-rule (6), a remark to the effect that voting procedure has been violated  shall be made against the elector’s  name  in the register  of   voters  in  Form  17A  by the  presiding  officer under his signature.

49-O. Elector deciding not to vote.–If  an elector,  after his  electoral  roll   number  has  been  duly  entered in  the register of voters in Form 17A and has put his signature or thumb impression  thereon as required under sub-rule (1) of  rule 49L, decide not to record his vote, a remark to this effect shall be made against the said entry in Form 17A by the   presiding    officer   and    the    signature    or     thumb impression  of  the elector  shall  be obtained  against  such remark.”

13)  Apart  from the above provisions,  it is also  relevant  to refer  Article  21(3)  of  the  Universal  Declaration  of  Human Rights and Article 25(b) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which read as under:

“21(3) The will  of  the people  shall  be the basis  of  the authority  of  government;  this will  shall  be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or  by equivalent free voting procedures.”

“25.  Every   citizen   shall    have   the   right    and   the opportunity, without any of  the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions:

(a) ***           ***                 ***;

(b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held  by secret ballot,  guaranteeing  the free  expression  of the will of the electors;”

14)  Articles  19(1)(a) and 21 of  the Constitution,  which are also pertinent for  this matter, are as under:

“19 –  Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech, etc.– (1) All citizens shall have the right-

(a) to freedom of speech and expression;

21 – Protection of life and personal liberty–No person shall  be  deprived  of   his  life  or   personal  liberty  except according to procedure established by law.”

5)  From the  above  provisions,  it is clear  that  in case  an elector decides not to record his vote, a remark to this effect shall  be made in Form 17-A by the  Presiding  Officer and the signature  or    thumb  impression   of   the  elector   shall   be obtained against such remark.  Form 17-A reads as under:

“FORM 17A [See rule 49L) REGISTER OF VOTERS

Election to the House of  the People/ Legislative Assembly of  the State/  Union territory ……………from………………Constituency No. and Name of Polling Station……………Part No. of Electoral Roll…………

Sl. No.

Sl.   No.  of elector in the electoral roll

Details       of       the document produced    by   the elector  in proof of his/                    her identification

Signature/ Thumb impression   of elector Remark s

Signature of the Presiding Officer”

16)   Before elaborating the contentions relating to the above provisions with reference to the secrecy of voting, let us first consider the issue of  maintainability of  the Writ Petition as raised  by the  Union of  India.    In  the present Writ  Petition, which is of the year 2004, the petitioners have prayed for  the following reliefs:

“(i)      declaring  that  Rules  41(2)  &  (3)  and  49-O of   the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 are ultra vires and unconstitutional to the extent they violate secrecy of vote;

(ii)     direct the Election Commission under the existing Representation  of  People  Act,  1951  and  the  Conduct of Election Rules, 1961  and/  or  under Article 324 to provide necessary provision  in the  ballot  papers and the voting machines for  protection of  right  not to vote and to keep the exercise of such right secret;”

17)  It is relevant to point out that  initially the present Writ Petition came up for  hearing before a Bench of  two-Judges. During the  course  of  hearing, an objection was raised  with regard to the maintainability of the Writ Petition under Article
32 on the ground that the right  claimed  by the petitioners is not a fundamental right as enshrined in Part III of the Constitution.   It is the  categorical objection of  the  Union of India  that inasmuch  as  the  writ petition  under  Article  32 would lie to this Court only for  the  violation of  fundamental rights  and since the right  to vote is not a fundamental  right, the present Writ Petition under Article 32 is not maintainable. It is the specific stand of the Union of India that right to vote is not a fundamental  right  but merely  a statutory right.   It  is further pointed out that this Court, in Para 20 of  the referral order  dated  23.02.2009,  reported  in  (2009)  3  SCC   200, observed  that   since    in   Kuldip   Nayar   (supra),    the judgments   of   this   Court  in  Association  for  Democratic

Reforms (supra) and People’s  Union for Civil Liberties (supra)  have not been specifically overruled which tend to create a doubt whether the right  to vote  is a fundamental right or  not and referred the same to a larger Bench stating that the issue requires clarity.   In view of  the reference, we have to decide:

(i)      Whether there  is any doubt or  confusion with regard  to the right of a voter in Kuldip  Nayar  (supra);

(ii)     Whether earlier  two judgments  viz.,  Association for Democratic  Reforms  (supra)  and People’s  Union for Civil  Liberties   (supra)  referred   to  by  the  Constitution Bench in Kuldip Nayar (supra) stand impliedly overruled.

18)   Though,   Mr.  Malhotra   relied   on  a  large   number  of decisions, we are of the view that there is no need to refer to those decisions  except a reference  to the  decision of  this Court    in    Kuldip   Nayar   (supra),    Association    for Democratic  Reforms  (supra)  and People’s  Union for Civil Liberties (supra).

19)  A three-Judge Bench of this Court comprising M.B Shah, P. Venkatarama Reddi and D.M. Dharmadhikari, JJ. expressed separate but concurring opinions in the People’s Union for Civil  Liberties   (supra).  In  para   97,  Reddi,  J   made  an observation as to the right  to vote being  a Constitutional right if not a fundamental right which reads as under:

“97. In  Jyoti  Basu v.  Debi Ghosal [1982]  3 SCR  318 this
Court again pointed out in no uncertain terms that:

8 “a right to elect, fundamental though  it is to democracy, is, anomalously enough, neither a fundamental right nor a common law right. It is pure and simple a statutory right.”

With great reverence to the eminent Judges, I would like to clarify that  the right to vote, if not a fundamental right, is certainly  a constitutional  right.  The right  originates  from the Constitution and in accordance with the constitutional mandate  contained  in  Article   326,  the  right  has  been shaped  by  the  statute,  namely,  R.P. act.  That,  in  my understanding, is the correct  legal position as regards the nature of  the right to vote in elections to the House of  the People  and Legislative Assemblies.  It  is not very accurate to describe  it as a statutory right,  pure and simple.  Even with this clarification, the argument of the learned Solicitor General  that the right  to vote not being  a fundamental right, the information which at best  facilitates meaningful exercise of that right  cannot be read as an integral  part of any fundamental right, remains to be squarely met….”

Similarly, in para 123, point No. 2 Reddi, J., held as under:-

“(2) The right to vote at the elections to the House of  the People or  Legislative Assembly is a constitutional right but not merely  a statutory right;  freedom of  voting  as distinct from  right  to  vote  is  a  facet  of   the fundamental  right enshrined in Article 19(1)(a).  The casting of vote in favour of  one or  the other candidate  marks the accomplishment of freedom of expression of the voter.”

Except the above two paragraphs, this aspect has nowhere been discussed or  elaborated wherein all the three Judges, in their  separate  but concurring  judgments,  have  taken  the pains  to  specifically distinguish  between right  to vote and freedom of  voting  as a species of  freedom of  expression. In succinct, the ratio of the judgment was that though the right to vote is a statutory right  but the decision taken by a voter after verifying the credentials of the candidate either to vote or  not is his right of  expression under Article 19(1)(a) of  the Constitution.

20)   As   a    result,    the   judgments    in   Association   for Democratic  Reforms  (supra)  and People’s  Union for Civil Liberties  (supra) have not disturbed the position that right  to vote is a statutory right.    Both the judgments  have only  added   that   the  right   to  know the  background  of   a

Candidate  is a fundamental  right  of  a voter so that he can take   a   rational    decision    of    expressing   himself    while exercising the statutory right  to vote.   In  People’s Union for Civil Liberties  (supra),  Shah J., in para  78D, held  as under:-

“…However,  voters’  fundamental  right  to know the antecedents  of   a candidate  is  independent  of   statutory rights under the election law. A voter is first citizen of  this country and apart from statutory rights, he is having fundamental rights conferred by the Constitution…”

P. Venkatrama Reddi, J., in Para 97, held as under:-

“…Though  the   initial  right   cannot  be  placed   on  the pedestal  of  a fundamental  right,  but, at the stage when the voter goes to the polling booth and casts  his vote, his freedom to express arises. The casting of vote in favour of one or  the other candidate  tantamounts to expression  of his  opinion  and  preference  and  that  final  stage   in  the exercise  of   voting   right   marks  the  accomplishment   of freedom of  expression  of  the voter. That  is where  Article
19(1)(a) is attracted.  Freedom of  voting as distinct  from right  to  vote  is thus  a  species  of  freedom of  expression and  therefore  carries  with  it  the  auxiliary  and complementary rights such as right to secure information about   the   candidate    which  are   conducive  to   the freedom…”

Dharmadhikari, J., in para 127, held as under:-

“…This freedom  of  a citizen  to participate  and choose a candidate  at an election  is distinct  from exercise  of  his

right  as a voter which is to be regulated by statutory law on the election like the RP Act…”

In  view of  the  above,  Para  362  in Kuldip  Nayar  (supra)

does not hold to the contrary, which reads as under:-

“We do not agree  with the  above  submission.  It  is clear that a fine distinction was drawn between the right to vote and  the  freedom  of   voting as  a  species of   freedom  of expression, while reiterating the view in Jyoti Basu v.  Debi Ghosal that  a  right  to elect,  fundamental  though  it is to democracy,  is neither  a fundamental  right  nor a common law right, but pure and simple, a statutory right”.

21)  After  a careful  perusal  of  the verdicts  of  this  Court in Kuldip  Nayar  (supra),   Association   for  Democratic Reforms (supra) and People’s  Union for Civil Liberties (supra),  we are of  the considered  view that  Kuldip  Nayar (supra)  does not overrule the other two decisions rather it only  reaffirms   what  has  already   been  said   by  the  two aforesaid decisions. The said paragraphs recognize that right to vote is a statutory right  and also  in People’s  Union for Civil Liberties  (supra) it was held  that  “a fine distinction was drawn between  the  right  to vote and the  freedom of voting  as a species  of  freedom of  expression”.  Therefore,  it

cannot be said  that Kuldip Nayar (supra)  has observed anything  to the contrary.   In  view of  the  whole debate of whether  these  two decisions  were overruled  or   discarded because of  the opening  line in Para  362  of  Kuldip Nayar (supra) i.e., “we do not agree with the above submissions…” we are of  the opinion that  this  line must be read as a whole and  not  in  isolation.  The  contention   of   the petitioners  in Kuldip Nayar (supra)  was that majority view in People’s Union for Civil Liberties  (supra) held  that right  to vote is a  Constitutional   right   besides   that   it  is  also  a  facet   of fundamental  right  under Article  19(1)(a) of  the Constitution. It is this contention on which the Constitution Bench did not agree too in the opening line in para 362 and thereafter went on  to  clarify  that   in  fact   in  People’s   Union for  Civil Liberties (supra), a fine distinction was drawn between the right  to  vote  and  the  freedom  of   voting  as a species of freedom of  expression.  Thus, there  is no contradiction  as to the fact that right to vote is neither a fundamental right nor a Constitutional  right  but a pure and simple  statutory right. The same has been settled in a catena of  cases  and  it is

clearly not an issue in dispute in the present case. With the above  observation,   we  hold  that   there   is  no  doubt   or confusion persisting  in the  Constitution  Bench judgment  of this  Court  in Kuldip Nayar (supra)  and the decisions  in Association   for   Democratic   Reforms   (supra)   and People’s  Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) (supra) do not stand impliedly overruled.

Whether the present  writ petition  under Article 32 is maintainable:

22)  In the earlier part of our judgment, we have quoted the reliefs prayed for  by the petitioners  in the writ petition.   Mr. Malhotra,   learned   Additional   Solicitor  General,   by  citing various decisions submitted that since right to vote is not a fundamental  right but is merely a statutory right, hence, the present writ petition under Article 32 is not maintainable and is  liable  to  be  dismissed.     He  referred  to  the  following decisions of  this Court in N.P. Ponnuswami  vs. Returning officer,  1952 SCR   218,  Jamuna  Prasad  Mukhariya vs. Lachhi Ram,  1955 (1)   SCR  608, University  of Delhi vs.

Anand  Vardhan  Chandal,  (2000) 10  SCC   648,  Kuldip Nayar (supra)  and K. Krishna Murthy (Dr.) vs. Union of India, (2010) 7 SCC  202, wherein it has been  held that the right  to  vote  is  not  a  fundamental  right  but  is  merely  a statutory right.

23)  In Kochunni vs. State  of Madras, 1959 (2)  Supp. SCR 16, this Court held that the right to move before this Court under  Article   32,  when  a  fundamental   right   has  been breached, is a substantive fundamental  right  by itself.   In  a series of  cases, this Court has held that  it is the duty of  this Court  to  enforce the  guaranteed  fundamental  rights.[Vide Daryo vs. State of U.P. 1962 (1)  SCR 574].

24)   The  decision   taken   by  a   voter   after   verifying  the credentials of the candidate either to vote or  not is a form of expression  under Article  19(1)(a) of  the Constitution.    The fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) read  with statutory right   under  Section   79(d)  of    the  RP   Act      is   violated unreasonably  if  right  not to vote effectively  is denied  and

secrecy is breached.  This is how Articles 14 and 19(1)(a) are required to be read for  deciding the issue raised in this writ petition.   The casting  of  the  vote  is a facet  of  the right  of expression  of  an  individual and  the  said  right  is provided under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India (Vide: Association   for   Democratic   Reforms   (supra)   and People’s  Union for  Civil Liberties  (supra).   Therefore, any violation of  the said  rights  gives  the aggrieved  person the right  to  approach  this  Court under  Article  32  of   the Constitution of  India. In view of  the above said decisions as well as the observations of the Constitution Bench in Kuldip Nayar (supra), a prima  facie  case exists for  the exercise of jurisdiction of this Court under Article 32.

25)  Apart  from  the  above,  we  would  not  be  justified  in asking  the  petitioners   to   approach   the   High  Court   to vindicate  their  grievance  by  way  of  a  writ petition  under Article 226 of the Constitution of India at this juncture. Considering the reliefs prayed for  which relate to the right of a voter and applicable  to all eligible voters,  it may  not  be

appropriate to direct the petitioners to go to each and every High Court and  seek  appropriate  relief.    Accordingly,  apart from our conclusion on legal issue, in view of the fact that the writ petition  is pending  before this  Court for  the last  more than nine  years,  it may not be proper to reject  the same on the ground, as pleaded  by learned  ASG.    For  the reasons mentioned  above,  we reject  the said  contention and hold that this Court is competent to hear the issues raised in this writ petition filed under Article 32 of the Constitution.

Discussion  about  the  relief  prayed  for  in  the  writ petition:

26)   We  have   already   quoted  the   relevant   provisions, particularly, Section 128 of the RP Act, Rules 39, 41, 49M  and
49-O of  the Rules.  It  is clear  from the above provisions  that secrecy of  casting  vote is duly recognized  and is necessary for   strengthening  democracy.  We are  of  the  opinion  that paragraph  Nos. 441, 442 and 452 to 454 of  the decision  of the  Constitution   Bench   in  Kuldip  Nayar  (supra),   are relevant for  this purpose which are extracted hereinbelow:

“441. Voting  at elections  to the  Council of  States cannot be compared with a general election. In a general election, the electors  have  to vote in a secret  manner  without fear that their  votes  would be  disclosed  to anyone or   would result  in  victimisation.  There  is  no  party  affiliation and hence the choice is entirely with the voter. This is not the case when elections  are held  to the  Council of  States as the electors are elected Members of  the Legislative Assemblies who in turn have party affiliations.

442.   The   electoral    systems   world   over   contemplate variations. No  one yardstick can be applied to an electoral system.  The question  whether  election is direct or  indirect and  for   which House  members  are  to  be  chosen  is  a relevant   aspect.  All   over   the   world  in   democracies, members  of   the  House  of   Representatives  are  chosen directly  by  popular  vote.  Secrecy  there   is  a  must  and insisted upon; in representative democracy, particularly to the upper chamber, indirect means of  election adopted on party lines is well  accepted practice.

452. Parliamentary democracy and multi-party system are an inherent part of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution.    It    is   the   political   parties    that    set    up candidates  at an election  who are predominantly  elected as Members of the State Legislatures. The context in which general    elections    are   held,   secrecy   of    the   vote   is necessary in order  to maintain the purity of  the electoral system.  Every voter has a right to vote in a free and fair manner and not disclose  to any person how he has voted. But here we  are concerned with a voter who is elected  on the  ticket of  a  political party.  In  this  view, the  context entirely changes.

453.  That   the  concept  of   “constituency-based representation”  is  different  from  “proportional representation” has been eloquently brought out in United Democratic   Movement   v.   President   of   the   Republic  of South  Africa where the question before the Supreme Court was: whether  “floor crossing” was fundamental to the Constitution  of  South Africa.  In  this judgment  the concept of proportional representation vis-à-vis constituency-based representation is highlighted…

The  distinguishing  feature  between  “constituency- based representation”  and “proportional  representation” in a representative democracy is that in the case of the list system   of    proportional    representation,    members   are elected on party lines. They are subject to party discipline. They  are  liable  to be  expelled  for   breach of   discipline. Therefore,  to give  effect to  the  concept  of  proportional representation, Parliament  can suggest  “open ballot”.  In such a case, it cannot be said that “free and fair elections” would stand defeated by “open ballot”. As stated above, in a constituency-based election  it is the  people  who vote whereas   in  proportional  representation  it  is  the  elector who   votes.   This  distinction   is   indicated   also   in   the Australian   judgment   in  R.  v.   Jones.   In  constituency- based representation, “secrecy” is the basis whereas in    the    case     of     proportional     representation    in    a representative democracy the basis  can be “open ballot” and  it  would  not  violate  the  concept of   “free  and  fair elections”,    which   concept    is   one   of    the    pillars   of democracy.”

27)   The above  discussion in the cited paragraphs makes it clear   that   in   direct   elections   to  Lok    Sabha   or    State Legislatures,   maintenance   of   secrecy   is  a  must   and   is insisted upon all over the world in democracies where direct elections are  involved to ensure  that  a voter  casts  his vote without any fear of being victimized if his vote is disclosed.

28)  After referring to Section 128 of the RP Act and  Rule 39 of  the  Rules,  this  Court  in  S. Raghbir Singh Gill   vs. S. Gurcharan Singh Tohra and Others  1980 (Supp) SCC  53 held as under:

“14…Secrecy of  ballot  can be appropriately  styled as a postulate of  constitutional democracy. It enshrines a vital principle  of   parliamentary  institutions  set  up under the Constitution.  It  subserves a very  vital  public  interest  in that an elector  or   a voter should  be absolutely  free  in exercise of  his franchise untrammelled by any constraint, which includes constraint as to the disclosure. A remote or distinct  possibility that  at some point  a voter may under a compulsion of  law be forced to disclose for  whom he has voted would act as a positive  constraint  and check on his freedom to exercise his franchise  in the  manner  he freely chooses  to  exercise.  Therefore,   it   can   be   said   with confidence that this postulate of  constitutional democracy rests on public policy.”

29)  In the earlier part of this judgment, we have referred to Article  21(3) of  the  Universal Declaration  of  Human Rights and Article 25(b) of  the International Covenant on Civil  and Political Rights, which also recognize the right of secrecy.

30)   With regard  to the  first  prayer of  the petitioners, viz., extension of principle of secrecy of ballot to those voters who decide  not to vote, Mr. Malhotra, learned ASG submitted that principle of secrecy of ballot is extended only to those voters who have  cast  their  votes  in  favour  of  one or   the other candidates,  but  the  same,  in no  manner,  can  be  read  as extended  to even those voters who have not voted in the

election.  He further pointed  out that  the principle of  secrecy of  ballot  pre-supposes validly cast  vote  and  the  object  of secrecy  is to assure a voter to allow him to  cast  his  vote without any fear and in no manner  it will be disclosed that in whose favour he has voted or  he will  not be compelled  to disclose in whose favour he voted.  The pith and substance of his argument is that secrecy of ballot is a principle which has been formulated  to ensure a voter (who has exercised  his right  to  vote)  that   in  no  case   it  shall  be  known to  the candidates  or  their  representatives that in whose  favour a particular voter has voted so that he can exercise his right to vote freely and fearlessly.   The stand of the Union of India as projected by learned ASG  is that  the  principle of  secrecy of ballot is extended only to those  voters  who have  cast  their vote and the  same  in no manner can be extended to those who have not voted at all.

31)   Right to  vote  as  well as  right  not to vote have been statutorily recognized under Section 79(d) of  the RP Act and Rules  41(2)  &   (3)    and  49-O  of   the   Rules  respectively.

Whether a voter decides  to cast his  vote or  decides  not to cast his vote, in both cases, secrecy has to be maintained.   It cannot  be  said  that  if  a  voter decides  to cast  his  vote, secrecy will  be maintained under Section 128 of  the RP  Act read  with Rules 39 and  49M of  the  Rules and  if  in case a voter  decides  not  to  cast  his  vote,  secrecy  will   not  be maintained.    Therefore,  a part of  Rule 49-O read  with Form
17-A,  which treats a voter who decides  not to cast his  vote differently and allows the secrecy  to be violated, is arbitrary, unreasonable  and violative  of  Article  19  and  is also  ultra vires Sections 79(d) and 128 of the RP Act.

32)   As  regards the  question  as  to whether the  right  of expression under Article 19 stands infringed when secrecy of the  poll is not maintained,  it is useful  to refer S. Raghbir Singh (supra) wherein this Court deliberated on the interpretation  of  Section  94 of  the RP  Act which  mandates that no elector can be compelled as a witness to disclose his vote.   In  that case, this  Court found that  the  “secrecy  of ballots  constitutes  a postulate  of  constitutional  democracy…

A remote or distinct possibility that the voter at some point of time may under a compulsion of law be forced to disclose for whom he has  voted  would act  as  a positive constraint and check on his freedom to exercise his franchise in the manner he freely chooses to exercise”.   Secrecy of  ballot, thus, was held   to  be  a  privilege   granted  in  public  interest   to  an individual.   It is pertinent to note that in the  said case, the issue of  the disclosure by an elector of  his vote arose  in the first  place  because there was an allegation that the postal ballot  of  an MLA was tampered with to secure  the victory of one  of   the  candidates   to  the   Rajya  Sabha.     Therefore, seemingly there  was a conflict between the “fair vote” and “secret ballot”.

33)  In Kuldip Nayar (supra), this Court held that though secrecy of ballots is a vital principle for  ensuring free and fair elections,  the  higher  principle  is  free  and  fair  elections. However,  in  the  same   case,   this  Court  made  a  copious distinction between “constituency based representation” and “proportional  representation”.  It  was held  that  while in the

former, secrecy  is the basis, in the latter the system of open ballot   and   it  would  not   be   violative   of   “free  and  fair elections”.    In  the said  case, R  vs. Jones,  (1972) 128 CLR
221 and United Democractic Movement vs. President of the Republic of South Africa, (2003) 1 SA 495 were also cited with approval.

34)  Therefore,  in view of  the decisions  of  this  Court in S. Raghubir Singh Gill   (supra)  and Kuldip Nayar (supra), the  policy is clear  that  secrecy  principle is integral  to free and fair elections which can be removed only when it can be shown  that  there  is any  conflict between secrecy and the “higher   principle”  of   free   elections.      The  instant   case concerns elections to Central and State Legislatures that are undoubtedly  “constituency based”.    No   discernible  public interest shall be served by disclosing the elector’s vote or  his identity.    Therefore,  secrecy  is an  essential  feature  of  the “free and fair elections” and Rule 49-O undoubtedly violates that requirement.

35)  In  Lily Thomas  vs. Speaker, Lok  Sabha,  (1993) 4

SCC  234, this  Court held  that  “voting is a formal  expression of  will or  opinion by the person entitled  to exercise  the right on the subject or  issue in question” and that “right to vote means right to exercise the right in favour of  or  against the motion or  resolution.    Such a right  implies  right  to remain neutral as well”.

36)  In  view  of  the same, this  Court  also  referred  to the Practice and Procedure of  the Parliament  for   voting  which provides  for   three  buttons:  viz., AYES,  NOES   and ABSTAIN whereby a member can abstain or  refuse from expressing his opinion by casting vote in favour or  against the motion.  The constitutional  interpretation  given  by this  Court was based on inherent philosophy of parliamentary sovereignty.

37)  A perusal  of  Section  79(d) of  the RP Act,  Rules 41(2) & (3)  and Rule 49-O of the Rules make it clear that  a right  not to vote has been recognized both under the RP Act and  the Rules.  A positive ‘right not to vote’ is a part of expression of

a  voter  in  a  parliamentary  democracy   and  it  has  to  be recognized  and given  effect to in the same  manner  as ‘right to vote’.   A voter may refrain from voting at an election for several   reasons  including  the   reason   that   he   does   not consider any of the candidates in the field worthy of his vote. One of  the ways of  such expression may be to abstain  from voting, which is not an ideal option for  a conscientious and responsible  citizen. Thus, the  only way by which it can  be made  effectual  is  by  providing  a  button  in  the  EVMs  to express that right.  This is the basic requirement if the lasting values  in a healthy  democracy have to be sustained,  which the  Election Commission  has  not  only recognized  but has also asserted.

38)   The Law  Commission of India, in its 170th  Report relating to Reform of  the Electoral  Laws  recommended for implementation  of  the  concept of  negative vote and  also pointed out its advantages.

39)  In  India,  elections  traditionally  have  been  held  with ballot  papers.   As  explained  by  the  Election  Commission, from 1998  onwards,  the  Electronic Voting Machines  (EVMs) were introduced on a large scale.  Formerly, under the ballots paper   system,   it  was  possible  to secretly cast a neutral/negative vote by going to the polling booth, marking presence and dropping one’s ballot in the ballot box without making any mark on the same.   However, under the system of EVMs, such secret neutral voting is not possible, in view of the provision of  Rule 49B of  the Rules and the design of  the EVM and other related voting procedures.   Rule 49B of  the Rules mandates that the names of  the candidates shall be arranged on the balloting  unit  in the  same  order  in which they appear in the list of  contesting  candidates  and there is no provision for  a neutral button.

40)  It was further clarified by the Election Commission that EVM comprises of  two units, i.e. control and balloting units, which are interconnected by a cable.   While the balloting unit is placed in a screened enclosure where an elector may cast

his  vote  in  secrecy,   the  control  unit  remains  under  the charge of  the Presiding  Officer and so placed  that  all polling agents and others present have an unhindered view of all the operations.   The balloting  unit,  placed  inside  the screened compartment  at  the  polling   station  gets  activated  for recording votes only when the button marked “Ballot” on the control  unit  is pressed by the presiding  officer/polling officer in charge.   Once the ballot button is pressed, the Control unit emanates  red light  while the  ballot  unit  which  has  been activated to receive the vote emanates green light.   Once an elector casts his vote by pressing balloting button against the candidate  of  his  choice,  he can see  a red light glow against the name and symbol of  that candidate and a high-pitched beep sound emanates  from the machine.   Upon such casting of vote, the balloting unit is blocked, green light emanates on the control unit, which is in public gaze, and the high pitched beep sound is heard by one and all.  Thereafter, the EVM has to re-activate for  the next elector by pressing “ballot button”. However, should  an elector  choose not to cast his  vote in favour of  any of  the candidates  labeled  on the  EVM,  and

consequently, not press any of the labeled button neither will the light on the control unit change from red to green nor will the  beep sound emanate.    Hence,  all present in the  poll booth at the relevant time will come to know that a vote has not been cast by the elector.

41)   Rule 49-O of  the Rules provides  that if an elector,  after his  electoral  roll  number has been entered in the register  of electors in Form 17-A, decides not to record his vote on the EVM,  a remark to this  effect shall  be made against  the said entry in  Form  17-A by  the  Presiding  Officer  and signature/thumb impression of  the elector shall be obtained against such remark.  As is apparent, mechanism of  casting vote through EVM and Rule 49-O compromise on the secrecy of  the vote as the elector  is not provided  any privacy  when the fact of the neutral/negative voting goes into record.

42)   Rules 49A  to 49X  of the Rules come under Chapter  II of Part  IV  of   the   Rules.     Chapter   II  deals   with  voting  by Electronic Voting Machines only.  Therefore, Rule 49-O, which

talks about Form 17-A, is applicable only in cases of voting by EVMs.   The said Chapter  was introduced in the Rules by way of an amendment dated 24.03.1992. Voting by ballot papers is governed by Chapter I of Part IV of the Rules.  Rule 39 talks about secrecy  while voting by ballot and Rule 41 talks about ballot papers.  However, as said earlier, in the case of voting by ballot paper, the candidate always had the option of  not putting the  cross mark against  the  names of  any  of  the candidates  and  thereby  record his  disapproval  for   all  the candidates  in the  fray.    Even though  such  a  ballot  paper would be considered as an invalid vote, the voter still had the right   not  to  vote  for   anybody  without  compromising  on his/her  right  of  secrecy.    However, with the  introduction of EVMs,  the said  option  of   not  voting  for   anybody  without compromising  the right  of  secrecy  is not  available  to the voter since the voting machines did not have  ‘None of  the Above’ (NOTA) button.

43)  It is also pointed out that  in order to rectify this serious defect, on 10.12.2001, the Election Commission addressed a

letter  to the Secretary, Ministry of  Law  and Justice  stating, inter  alia,  that   the  “electoral  right”  under  Section  79(d) includes  a right  not to cast  vote and sought to provide  a panel  in the  EVMs  so that an elector  may indicate  that he does   not   wish  to   vote   for    any  of   the  aforementioned candidates.   The letter also stated that such number of votes expressing dissatisfaction with all the candidates may be recorded  in a result  sheet.  It  is also  brought to our notice that no action was taken on the said letter dated 10.12.2001.

44)   The Election Commission further pointed out that  in the larger interest of promoting democracy, a provision for “None of the Above” or “NOTA” button should be made in the EVMs/ ballot papers. It is also highlighted that such an action, apart from promoting free and  fair elections in a democracy,  will provide an opportunity to the elector to express his dissent/disapproval  against  the  contesting candidates  and will have the benefit of reducing bogus voting.

45)  Democracy and  free  elections  are  part  of   the  basic structure of  the Constitution.   In  Indira  Nehru Gandhi vs. Raj Narain,  1975 Supp 1 SCC  198, Khanna,  J.,  held  that democracy postulates that there should be periodic elections where the people should be in a position to re-elect their old representatives  or   change the  representatives or   elect  in their   place   new  representatives.     It   was  also  held   that democracy  can function only when elections are free and fair and the people are free to vote for  the candidates of  their choice.   In the said case, Article 19 was not in issue and the observations were in the  context  of  basic  structure of  the Constitution.      Thereafter,  this  Court  reiterated  that democracy   is  the  basic  structure  of   the  Constitution   in Mohinder Singh Gill  and Another vs. Chief Election Commissioner, New Delhi and Others, (1978) 1 SCC 405 and Kihoto  Hollohon vs.  Zachillhu and  Others,  1992 (Supp) 2 SCC 651.

46)  In  order to protect the right  in terms  of  Section 79(d) and  Rule 49-O, viz., “right  not to vote”, we are of  the view that this  Court is competent/well  within its  power to issue directions that secrecy of a voter who decides not to cast his vote has to be protected in the same manner  as the  Statute has protected the right  of  a voter who decides to cast his vote in favour of  a candidate.   This Court is also justified in giving such directions in order  to give effect to the right of expression  under Article  19(1)(a) and to avoid  any discrimination   by  directing   the   Election  Commission   to provide NOTA button in the EVMs.

47)   With regard to the above, Mr. Malhotra, learned ASG, by drawing our attention to Section 62 of the RP Act, contended that this  Section  enables  a person  to cast  a vote and it has no scope for  negative voting.    Section  62(1) of  the RP  Act reads as under:

“62. Right to vote.(1) No  person  who is not,  and  except as expressly provided by this Act, every person who is, for the  time  being   entered  in  the   electoral   roll    of    any constituency shall be entitled to vote in that constituency.”

48)   Mr. Malhotra,  learned  ASG  has also  pointed  out that elections are conducted to fill a seat by electing  a person by a positive  voting  in his  favour  and  there  is no concept  of negative voting under the RP Act.   According to him, the Act does  not  envisage  that  a  voter has  any right  to cast a negative  vote  if  he  does  not  like any  of   the candidates. Referring  to  Section  2(d)  of  the RP  Act,  he asserted  that election  is  only  a  means   of   choice  or   election  between various  candidates  to fill a seat.   Finally, he concluded  that negative voting (NOTA)  has no legal consequence and there shall be no motivation for  the voters to travel to the polling booth and reject  all the  candidates,  which would have  the same effect of not going to the polling station at all.

49)   However, correspondingly,  we  should  also  appreciate that   the   election    is   a   mechanism,    which   ultimately represents the will of the people. The essence of the electoral system should  be to ensure  freedom of  voters to exercise their  free  choice.  Article  19 guarantees  all individuals  the right to speak,  criticize, and disagree on a particular issue. It

stands on the spirit of  tolerance and  allows people to have diverse views, ideas and ideologies. Not allowing a person to cast vote negatively defeats the very freedom of  expression and the right ensured in Article 21 i.e., the right to liberty.

50)  Eventually, voters’ participation explains the strength of the democracy. Lesser voter participation is the  rejection of commitment  to  democracy   slowly  but  definitely  whereas larger  participation is better for  the democracy. But, there is no yardstick to determine what the correct and right voter participation is.  If  introducing  a NOTA  button can increase the participation  of   democracy   then,  in  our  cogent  view, nothing should stop the same. The voters’ participation in the election is indeed  the participation in the  democracy  itself. Non-participation causes frustration and disinterest, which is not a healthy sign of a growing democracy like India.

Conclusion:
51)    Democracy being the basic feature of our constitutional set  up, there  can  be  no two opinions   that free   and  fair

elections  would  alone  guarantee  the  growth of  a healthy democracy    in   the    country.    The   ‘Fair’    denotes   equal opportunity  to all people.  Universal adult  suffrage conferred on the  citizens  of   India  by  the  Constitution has  made  it possible  for  these millions of  individual voters  to go to the polls and thus  participate  in the governance of  our country. For   democracy  to  survive,   it  is  essential   that  the  best available men should be chosen as people’s representatives for   proper  governance  of   the  country.  This can be  best achieved through men of high moral and ethical values, who win  the   elections  on a  positive  vote.  Thus  in  a  vibrant democracy, the  voter  must  be  given   an  opportunity   to choose none of  the above (NOTA)  button,  which will  indeed compel  the  political parties  to nominate  a sound candidate. This  situation  palpably  tells  us the  dire  need of  negative voting.

52)  No  doubt, the right  to vote is a statutory right  but it is equally  vital  to  recollect  that  this  statutory  right  is  the essence of  democracy.  Without this,  democracy will  fail to

thrive. Therefore, even if the right to vote  is statutory, the significance  attached with the  right  is massive.  Thus, it is necessary to keep in mind  these facets  while deciding  the issue at hand.

53)   Democracy is all about choice. This choice can be better expressed by giving the  voters  an  opportunity  to verbalize themselves  unreservedly  and by imposing  least  restrictions on their  ability to make  such  a  choice.  By  providing NOTA button  in the  EVMs, it will  accelerate  the effective  political participation  in the present state of  democratic system and the   voters   in  fact   will   be  empowered.   We  are   of   the considered   view  that   in  bringing   out  this   right   to  cast negative vote at a time when electioneering is in full swing, it will  foster  the purity  of  the electoral  process and also  fulfill one of its objective, namely, wide participation of people.

54)  Free   and   fair  election   is  a  basic  structure  of   the Constitution and  necessarily  includes  within  its  ambit  the right  of  an elector  to cast his  vote without  fear  of  reprisal,

duress  or    coercion.   Protection   of   elector’s   identity   and affording   secrecy   is  therefore   integral   to  free   and  fair elections and an arbitrary distinction between the voter who casts his vote and the voter who does not cast his vote is violative   of   Article   14.  Thus,  secrecy   is  required   to  be maintained for  both categories of persons.

55)   Giving right  to a voter not to vote for  any candidate while protecting his right of secrecy is extremely important in a democracy.  Such an option gives  the voter the right  to express his disapproval with the kind of  candidates that are being  put  up  by  the  political  parties.    When  the  political parties  will   realize   that  a  large   number  of   people   are expressing  their  disapproval  with the  candidates  being  put up by them, gradually  there will  be a systemic  change and the  political parties  will  be forced to accept  the will  of  the people and field candidates who are known for their integrity.

56)   The direction  can also  be supported by the fact  that in the existing  system a dissatisfied  voter  ordinarily does  not

turn  up  for   voting   which  in  turn  provides   a  chance to unscrupulous elements to impersonate the dissatisfied voter and  cast   a  vote,  be  it  a  negative   one.  Furthermore,  a provision  of   negative   voting  would  be  in  the  interest  of promoting   democracy   as  it  would  send   clear   signals   to political   parties   and   their   candidates   as   to  what  the electorate think about them.

57)   As  mentioned  above,  the  voting   machines   in   the Parliament  have three  buttons, namely,  AYES,  NOES,  and ABSTAIN.   Therefore, it can be seen  that  an option has been given   to  the   members  to  press  the   ABSTAIN   button. Similarly,  the   NOTA    button   being    sought   for    by   the petitioners  is exactly similar to the ABSTAIN button since by pressing the NOTA button the voter is in effect saying that he is abstaining from voting since he does  not find any of  the candidates to be worthy of his vote.

58)   The mechanism of  negative voting, thus, serves a very fundamental  and essential  part of  a vibrant  democracy. The

following  countries   have  Provided   for

neutral/protest/negative voting in their electoral systems:

S.No       Name of the Country      Method of Voting               Form of
Negative Vote

1.                  France                              Electronic                    NOTA

2.                  Belgium                       Electronic                    NOTA

3.                    Brazil                       Ballot Paper                   NOTA

4.                   Greece                       Ballot Paper                   NOTA

5.                  Ukraine                     Ballot Paper                   NOTA

6.                    Chile                       Ballot Paper                   NOTA

7.              Bangladesh                      Ballot Paper                   NOTA

8.      State of Nevada, USA            Ballot Paper                   NOTA

9.                   Finland                      Ballot Paper              Blank Vote and/or ‘write in*’

10.                 Sweden                      Ballot Paper              Blank Vote and/or ‘write in*’

11.          United States of
America

Electronic/Ballot (Depending on State)

Blank Vote and/or ‘write in*’

12.                Colombia                    Ballot Paper              Blank Vote

13. Spain Ballot Paper Blank Vote  * Write-in’ – The ‘write-in’  form of  negative voting  allows a voter    to    cast    a    vote    in    favour    of     any    fictional name/candidate.

59)   The Election Commission also  brought to the notice of this Court that the present electronic voting machines can be used   in  a  constituency where the  number of   contesting candidates is up to 64. However, in the event  of there being more than 64 candidates  in the  poll fray, the  conventional system  of   ballot   paper   is  resorted  to.  Learned   counsel appearing for  the Election Commission also asserted through supplementary  written  submission  that the Election Commission of  India is presently  exploring the  possibility of developing balloting unit with 200 panels. Therefore, it was submitted  that if  in case  this  Court decides  to uphold  the prayers of the petitioners herein, the additional panel on the balloting unit after the last panel containing the name and election  symbol  of   the  last  contesting  candidate  can  be utilized  as   the   NOTA   button.  Further,   it  was   explicitly

asserted in the written submission that  the provision for  the above facility for  a negative or  neutral  vote can be provided in  the   existing   electronic   voting  machines   without   any additional cost or  administrative effort or  change  in design or technology of the existing machines.   For  illustration, if there are 12 candidates  contesting  an election,  the 13th  panel  on the balloting  unit  will  contain  the  words like “None of  the above” and the ballot button against this panel will  be kept open and the elector who does not wish to vote for  any of the abovementioned  12  contesting  candidates,  can  press  the button against the 13th panel and his vote will be accordingly recorded by the control unit. At the time of the counting, the votes recorded against  serial  number 13 will  indicate  as to how  many   electors   have  decided  not  to  vote  for    any candidate.

60)   Taking note of the submissions  of Election Commission, we are  of  the  view that  the  implementation  of  the NOTA button will  not require  much effort except  for  allotting  the last panel in the EVM for the same.

61)  In  the light of  the above discussion,  we hold that  Rules

41(2) & (3)  and 49-O of the Rules are ultra vires Section 128 of  the RP Act and  Article 19(1)(a) of  the Constitution to the extent  they  violate   secrecy  of   voting.     In   view  of   our conclusion, we direct the Election Commission to provide necessary provision in the  ballot  papers/EVMs  and another button called  “None of  the Above”  (NOTA)  may be provided in EVMs  so that  the  voters,  who come  to the  polling booth and decide not to vote for  any of  the candidates  in the fray, are able to exercise their right not to vote while maintaining their right of secrecy.  Inasmuch as the Election Commission itself is in favour of the provision for  NOTA in EVMs, we direct the  Election Commission to implement the same either in a phased  manner  or   at  a time  with  the  assistance  of   the Government of India.  We also direct the Government of India to provide necessary help for  implementation of  the above direction.  Besides, we also direct the Election Commission to undertake awareness programmes to educate the masses.

NEW DELHI; SEPTEMBER  27, 2013.

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