EC trying to bring in overseas voters who still elude polling booths

Kolkata: Ambar Hazra (name changed) has been working in an oil company in Canada for the last nine years. He had registered himself as an overseas voter in 2014 but couldn't turn up to cast his vote. He might not be able to make it to the booth this year as well.

"We get a long leave in winter but in summer it is not possible for us to come and cast our vote. There is a financial complication involved and we cannot afford to spend so much only to cast our vote. I registered myself with the hope that the Election Commission will do something to facilitate our

voting process but nothing has

happened. So the chances of me participating in the democratic process of our country are very low," said Hazra, an overseas voter from the Diamond Harbour constituency.

Prashanta Sen (name changed), who has just left his job in South Africa and come back to India a few months ago, will be able to cast his vote after 16 years.

"I am thrilled that I will be able to cast my vote this time. I had registered myself as an overseas voter a long time ago but couldn't come. The ECI should think of some-thing so that we can also become a part of this process. If the service electors can cast their votes, why can't we?" said Sen, a resident of Lake Town.

Hazra was among the 8 voters who had registered themselves for the 2014 Loksabha election, but only one had turned up at the booth. In the 2016 Assembly election, the number of 'overseas voters' from Bengal had doubled to 16, but none had come to exercise their franchise.

Nationally, the figure is even more pathetic. Of the 12,234 'overseas voters' registered in 2014, only 8 persons had cast their votes.

The latest Election Commission data shows that Kerala has the highest number of overseas voters with 12,585 people registered, followed by Punjab with 169 voters, Tamil Nadu with 125 voters, Puducherry with 65 voters and Goa with 27 registered 'overseas voters'. Bengal, with 22 'overseas voters', is the sixth in rank.

In the entire state, Kolkata is the highest with 7 persons registered as 'overseas voters'. Kolkata is followed by Birbhum with five voters, North 24-Parganas with 4 voters and South 24-Parganas and Hooghly with two voters each. There is one voter each in Howrah and West Midnapore.

According to Election Commission officials, the enrolment of 'overseas voters' can be done online. The interested voter needs to visit the ECI website, choose the state or union territory and go to the State Election Commission of India division, opt for Form 6A and download it.

They can then submit the form with relevant passport pages and visa documents by post or in person. "Naturally, people can register themselves easily but when it comes to voting they need to appear in person at the booth, show the passport and cast their vote. This is a problem," a commission official said.

He added that the commission has separate notifications in every country, asking Indian citizens to register themselves as voters. "We need more campaigning so that people living outside the country understand the importance of their votes," he maintained.

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