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Editorial of the Day: Securing the Migrant Vote (The Hindu)

Context: The article is discussing the issue of migrant voters, particularly in the context of the recent state election in Karnataka. It highlights the Election Commission’s proposal for Remote Voting Machines (RVM) as a potential solution for migrant workers who may find it difficult to vote due to their mobility. However, it also acknowledges the need for greater awareness and transparency about this initiative. Therefore, the article is addressing the challenges and opportunities related to ensuring migrant voters’ participation in the electoral process in the country.

Securing the Migrant Vote Background

The Election Commission (EC) has developed a prototype of a remote electronic voting machine (RVM) for domestic migrant voters.

Remote Electronic Voting Machine:

Remote Electronic Voting Machine (RVM), allows domestic migrants to vote in national and regional elections. The EC proposed using this in a State Assembly election as a pilot so internal migrants within a state can cast their ballots.

What is an RVM
What is an RVM

Aim: Improve voter turnout and ensure the participation of migrants in elections.

  • It will use a Multi-Constituency RVM for migrant voting, i.e it would cater to voters from multiple constituencies of a state.
  • It is developed by a public sector undertaking: Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and the Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL).
  • It can handle up to 72 constituencies from a single remote polling booth.
  • It will have the same security system and voting experience as the EVM.

Features of RVM:

  • It is a standalone, non-networked system having the same security features as the existing Indian EVMs and provides the same voting experience to the voter as the EVM.
  • The RVM system is essentially a modified version of the existing EVM system.
  • A single Ballot Unit (BU) can cater to multiple AC/ PCs at a single polling station by using a dynamic ballot display instead of the usually printed paper ballot sheet on BU.

Process of Remote Voting using RVM:

  • The voter should pre-register for the remote voting facility by applying online/offline within a pre-notified time, before elections in his/her home constituency commence.
  • Voter details will be verified at the home constituency and the voter’s request for remote voting will be approved after successful verification by marking him/her as a remote voter to participate in elections.
  • Special multi-constituency remote voting polling stations will be set up in the places of the voter’s current residence.

Significance of RVM

  • Increasing voters’ participation: It will enable a voter, who is listed in constituencies, to exercise voting rights from a single machine.
  • Ease of Voting: Migrant voters need not travel to their home district to exercise their voting rights.
  • Vibrant Democracy: It will enable approximately 30 crore electors, currently not exercising their franchise, to vote.
  • Safety and Security: Remote e-voting machine will be a standalone device which doesn’t need connectivity to operate.

Concerns with RVM

  • Inclusive definition of migrants: Migrants are not a uniform and defined class, with fluid identities, locations and situations.
  • Trust Issue: Various countries have already rejected EVMs for paper-based ballots.
  • Hacking Probability: RVMs with more technological components are bound to raise further questions.
  • Lack of Level Playing Field: Remote voting can theoretically provide an added edge to bigger parties and richer candidates who can campaign across the constituency and beyond.
  • Model Code of Conduct: There is no clarity about how Model Code of Conduct will be implemented in the remote constituencies.

About EVM or Electronic Voting Machines:

  • They are used to cast votes without revealing identity.
  • They replaced paper ballots in local, state and general (parliamentary) elections in India.
  • Indian EVMs are standalone (not connected to the internet) and have a one-time programmable chip, making tampering through the hardware port or through a Wi-Fi connection impossible.
  • Voter Verified Paper Trail Audit (VVPAT) machine: To help verify that the EVM had recorded the vote correctly as intended by the voter

Decoding the Editorial

The article highlights the recent study conducted by the Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies to understand the voting patterns of migrant voters in Bengaluru who have increased from the previous decade. It further emphasises the significance of migrant voters’ participation in the electoral process in Karnataka and the need to understand their voting patterns to ensure their representation in the state’s political system.

Key Findings of the Study:

  • Reasons for Migration:
    • Many migrant workers from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Assam move to Bengaluru and its outskirts without their families.
    • The study found that the primary motivation for their migration is the low and irregular wages and lack of opportunities in their home States.
  • Geographical Constraints:
    • On analysing the localities of migrant workers from North and North-East India in Karnataka, it was found that almost 99% of them were not registered as voters in the state and most of them had their names on the voter lists of their home constituencies.
    • The reasons for this include geographical constraints that make it difficult for them to travel back home to vote, leading to inadequate exercise of their political voting rights.
    • Many reported difficulties of travelling long distances to vote.
  • Apprehensions of the Migrant Workers:
    • The article explains the apprehension of migrant workers in India about registering themselves as voters in any State other than their home State.
    • The reasons for this apprehension include frequent changes in residence, fear of losing property in their home State, and the challenges of bringing their families with them.
    • Few migrants cited concerns about the safety of their localities, particularly for women.
  • Remote Voting Machines (RVMs):
    • Election Commission of India (ECI) has proposed to introduce Remote Voting Machines (RVMs) to facilitate voting for migrant workers who find it challenging to travel back to their native place to vote.
    • The proposal aims to prevent the loss of votes due to geographical constraints faced by migrant workers.
    • Concerns:
      • However, some political parties raised concerns about the trustworthiness of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs).
      • Also, there is little awareness among migrant workers about the ECI’s proposal to introduce RVMs.
      • A few had apprehensions about this mode of voting and many voiced their concerns and anxieties about the system’s accuracy.
  • Securing Voters’ Rights and Duties: ​​
    • There is a need for more dialogue and transparency around the implementation of Remote Voting Machines (RVMs) as a solution for migrant workers who find it difficult to travel to their native places to vote.
    • While the study shows that the RVM initiative is much needed, it requires more thought and greater transparency.
    • The migrants valued their right to vote and saw it as their duty and responsibility as citizens of the country, with no expectations of any form of inducement or support from any candidate or party.

Therefore, to enable the migrant workers to exercise their fundamental right to vote the issues such as due to geographical constraints and lack of registration in the place of their current residence have to be addressed.  It must be realized that the voices and votes of migrant workers are crucial and need to be heard and counted in the democratic process.

Beyond the Editorial

Who is a Migrant Worker?

  • A migrant worker is a person who migrates within a home country or outside it to pursue work. Migrant workers usually do not have the intention to stay permanently in the country or region in which they work.
  • In India, Migrant workers usually refer to those who engage in internal migration within the country, often for the purpose of seeking employment.
    • Internal migration refers to the movement of people from one place to another within the same country.
  • Internal migration in India:
    • As per census 2011, the total number of internal migrants in India is 36 crore or 37% of the country’s population.
    • The Economic Survey pegged the size of the migrant workforce at roughly 20 per cent or over 10 crore in 2016.
    • Major origin states of internal migration: Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Odisha.
    • Major destination states of internal migration: Maharashtra, Delhi, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Punjab.
    • Sectoral composition: The share of migrant workers is the highest in the construction sector for females while the highest number of male migrant workers are employed in public services (transport, postal, public administration services) and modern services (financial intermediation, real estate, renting, education, health).

What are the problems faced by Migrant Workers in India?

  • Lack of job security: Migrant workers often work in unorganised and informal sectors with low wages and no job security. They are vulnerable to exploitation, including being paid less than minimum wages, being forced to work long hours, and being subjected to unsafe working conditions.
  • Social exclusion: Migrant workers are often stigmatised and discriminated against due to their ethnicity, language, and cultural differences.
  • Lack of legal protection: They often face difficulties in accessing justice when their rights are violated. They are not covered by most labour laws and do not have access to social security benefits.
  • Inadequate living conditions: Migrant workers often live in crowded and unhygienic living conditions, with limited access to sanitation facilities. This makes them vulnerable to diseases and illnesses.
  • Lack of access to education: Migrant children often face challenges in accessing education due to language barriers and discrimination. Many of them drop out of school to support their families.
  • Exploitation by middlemen: Migrant workers often rely on middlemen or labour contractors to find work, who take advantage of their vulnerable position by charging high fees and forcing them to work in unsafe and exploitative conditions.
  • Lack of coordination among states: There is inadequate coordination among states on a formal exchange of information on migrant workers. In the absence of data, it is difficult to track labourers during times of crisis.

What is the legal framework for Migrant Welfare?

  • The Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, 1979 looks into the welfare of the labourers.
  • Key provisions of the act:
    • The Act mandates that the establishment which proposes to employ migrant workers be required to be registered with destination states.
    • Contractors will also have to obtain a license from the concerned authority of the home states as well as the host states.
  • Issues with the Act:
    • In practice, this Act has not been fully implemented.
    • This Act has been subsumed into the four broad labour codes notified by the Centre: The Code on Wages, 2019; The Industrial Relations Code, 2020; The Code on Social Security, 2020; and The Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020. These have not been implemented yet.
  • States which have tried to implement the Act:
    • Andhra Pradesh and Odisha: In 2012, with the help of the International Labour Organisation, an MoU was signed between Odisha and Andhra Pradesh to track labourers migrating from 11 districts of Odisha to work in brick kilns in the-united Andhra Pradesh.
    • Kerala: Kerala has set up facilitation centres for migrant workers whom the state refers to as “guest workers”. These facilitation centres maintain data regarding migrant workers arriving in Kerala as well as help migrant workers navigate any problems they might face.

Initiatives by the government for the welfare of Migrant Workers

Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana After the lockdown, Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana with a financial package of Rs. 1.7 lakh crore was launched to help poor, needy and unorganised sector workers of the country.
PM SVANidhi Scheme The Scheme was launched to facilitate collateral free working capital loans up to Rs.10,000/- of one-year tenure, to approximately 50 lakh street vendors, to resume their businesses.
Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyan In order to facilitate employment of migrant workers who have gone back to their home state, Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyan was initiated in 116 districts in Mission Mode.
State migrant cell Migrant workers’ Cell is being created to prepare a database of migrant workers in states with mapping.
eShram portal: It is a national database created to register the unorganised workers in the country, including the migrant workers.
National policy on migrant workers NITI Aayog has been mandated to prepare a draft national policy on migrant workers to reimagine labour-capital relations while integrating the migrant workers within the formal workforce.

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