The Supreme Court of India in the case of PUCL vs. Union of India first time recognized the principle of right to reject. This was the case which brought about the option of “None of the Above” in the General elections of 2014 and many state elections that have been held since the passing of this judgment.
PUCL, an NGO, moved to the Supreme Court of India in the form of a PIL about the grant of right to reject in the elections in India. They questioned the constitutional validity of Rules 41(2), (3) and 49-O of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961. Their main contention was against the declaration of the people who hadn’t voted for anyone in any particular election as “non voters”. This, according to their arguments, was against the right of secret balloting of the citizens during elections and, by extension, violated the fundamental right enshrined in the Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution.
The judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in this case is significant not only because it introduced the option of NOTA on the EVMs but also because it dignified the right to vote. By declaring that right to vote is essentially a right to free expression, they brought this right under the purview of fundamental rights. Furthermore, the court also declared that the right to vote included the right not to vote.
Finally, with reference to the landmark case of Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain, the court brought the right to free and fair elections under the purview of basic structure of the constitution and hence, by extension, brought the right to secrecy about one’s choice of vote, or not to vote, under the same.
Author: Akshay Goel, Hidayatullah National Law University