The first time, over 1,000 Gujarat corporate houses have signed agreements with the Election Commission (EC) to monitor “electoral participation of their workforce” and publish the names of those who do not vote on their websites or office notice boards.
Disclosing this, Gujarat Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) P Bharathi told “We have signed 233 MoUs (Memorandum of Understanding) that will help us enforce the guidelines of the Election Commission. For the first time in Gujarat, we will be monitoring the electoral participation of the workforce belonging to 1,017 industrial units.”
MoUs have been signed with individual units as well as industry bodies, and efforts to bring more on board will continue until election day. The state will hold assembly elections later this year.
According to reports, the EC asked central and state government departments, public sector units, and corporate entities with 500 or more employees in June to appoint nodal officers to identify employees who take leave on election day but do not vote.
“In order to expand our reach, we decided to monitor industries employing 100 or more workers in Gujarat. The human resources officials in these units have been appointed as nodal officers. They will prepare a list of employees who don’t vote and publish it on their websites or notice boards,” said Bharathi.
Similarly, employees of state public sector units and government departments who don’t vote will also be tracked, he said.
When contacted, Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar said: “Out of seven least voting percentage districts during 2019 general elections, four were metropolitan cities. Voting percentage in urban areas is generally less, pulling down the overall voting percentage.
Enthusiasm in discussing contemporary issues should not remain confined to social media alone, but also needs to find expression through voting. So we are requesting, motivating and nudging leave-taking and non-voting ones (voters) in urban areas through sharper SVEEP (Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation) activities, distinct from other target groups like rural areas, women and youth.”
According to Section 135B of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, every registered voter employed in any business, trade, industrial undertaking or any other establishment and entitled to vote in a Parliament or Assembly election has to be granted a paid holiday for the purpose. The state and central governments always notify polling day as a paid holiday within the meaning of Section 25 of Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881.
During his recent visit to Gujarat, the CEC had said the Commission cannot enforce compulsory voting, but wanted to identify workers in big industries who don’t vote despite availing the holiday. Asked if this was a step towards compulsory voting, he said: “As there is no compulsory voting, this is an attempt to identify those who do not vote.”
Bharathi said that in some industries, the management itself was not keen on granting leave to allow workers to vote.
The Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) said most of its members operate MSME (micro, small and medium enterprises) units, so they may not be able to grant a holiday to workers on polling day.
“As per our agreement with EC, we will be facilitating our workers to go out and vote. We will not be able to give a holiday, but we will allot a time slot and make conveyance arrangements. This facility will be only for local workers,” said Pathik Patwari, GCCI president.
A senior EC official had told,earlier that employers will be urged to send workers who skip voting for special voter awareness workshops organised by the poll panel. “The aim is to tackle voter apathy, especially in urban areas,” the official had said.
The voter turnout in Gujarat was 69% in the 2017 Assembly elections and 64% in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. According to the CEO, the polling stations with low turnout in 2017 have been identified.
Meanwhile, Congress spokesperson in Gujarat, Manish Doshi, said “the EC should also ensure that workers are not pressured or manipulated by their management or factory owners” to vote for a particular party.
“Encouraging workers to vote is a good step. But will the Commission also publish the names of company owners if they don’t vote,” he said.