World’s biggest elections are set to take place in India in April and May this year. Almost900 million people out of its 1.3 billion population are expected to exercise their right to vote during the period of April-May.

However, there’s a group of Indian citizens whose right to vote is a big question mark amidst the massive celebration of democracy. These are around 4,00,000 prisoners languishing in Indian jails. 

Last week, the Delhi High Court sought response of the Centre, Election Commission of India and prisons authorities on a plea seeking to grant and facilitate voting rights to all the people lodged in jails across the country.

The PIL, filed by three law students from Uttar Pradesh, challenged the constitutionality of section 62(5) of Representation of People Act, which deprives prisoners their right to vote.

The three law students Praveen Kumar Chaudhary, Atul Kumar Dubey and Prerna Singh contended in their plea that blanket ban on right to vote of prisoners is desecration of the essence and soul protected in the Constitution and to the basic principle of equality.

The petition states that people in any kind of confinement - in custody, under trial or convicted - should be allowed to vote and requisite facilities for the same should be made available.

The pertaining question here is that if incarceration does not strip a person of citizenship, why should it lead to rejection of voting rights. The irony here is that those who are charged with crime can contest elections but they cannot vote. 

According to Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) report released in April 2018, a total of 1,580 MPs and MLAs or approximately 33 per cent of the legislators in Parliament and state assemblies have declared criminal cases against them.

The ADR report was based its analysis of the affidavits submitted by the legislators. There are a total of 4,896 MPs and MLAs in the country. The ADR analysed affidavits of 4,845 of them. These include 768 of 776 affidavits of MPs, and 4,077 of 4,120 MLAs.

In its 2013 judgement, the Supreme Court legitimised the longstanding statutory ban on prisoner voting rights. India’s ban on prisoners’ voting rights makes no offence-based or sentence-based classification. Prisoners are barred from voting notwithstanding the gravity of offence they have committed. It also makes no distinction between convicted prisoners, undertrials, and those in lawful police custody. 

It means that prisoners that are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty are denied the right to vote and the statistics of the same stand at 65 per cent of the prison population.

If the Supreme Court reconsiders its stand on right to vote, it would be a massive win of the fundamental right to equality.  

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