In an attempt to make the country a favoured destination for 'non-resident Indians' or those with Indian passports living abroad, a union group of ministers (GoM) on Thursday cleared a draft bill that will allow persons holding an Indian passport but studying or working abroad to vote, if they are in their constituency on election day.
The GoM included Ravi, law minister Verrappa Moily and parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Kumar Bansal. The representation of peoples (amendment) bill will be taken up by the cabinet soon.
Overseas Indian affairs minister Vayalar Ravi said the GoM had cleared the bill and it would be introduced in Rajya Sabha as early in the next session. "This was a long standing demand of people holding Indian passports especially in the Gulf. We hope to bring it in the cabinet soon,'' Ravi said.
NRIs have been demanding voting rights for several years now. While many associations had been campaigning for voting through the internet, the option has so far not found favour with Election Commission.
There are an estimated 5,00,000 Indian passport holders scattered around the world, and in an acknowledgement of their growing influence and strength, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had announced in January that the government would make efforts to ensure that NRIs had voting rights by the next general election.
But what will NRIs actually gain? The tax rates for NRIs and residents are the same. The concession for NRIs is that their income abroad is not taxable in India. However for resident Indians, global income is taxable in India. Double-taxation avoidance agreements with the host country may also help NRIs save on taxes.