PUCL v. Union Of India: An Analysis Of The Impact Of NOTA

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A decade has passed since NOTA or None Of The Above option was introduced by a full Supreme Court bench comprising of the then Chief Justice of India Justice P. Sathasivam...
India Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration
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"A vote is like a rifle : its usefulness depends upon the character of the user."

– Theodore Roosevelt

A decade has passed since NOTA or None Of The Above option was introduced by a full Supreme Court bench comprising of the then Chief Justice of India Justice P. Sathasivam, Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai and Justice Ranjan Gogoi in the case of People's Union for Civil Liberties and Anr. Vs Union of India and Anr. It was rolled out in the assembly elections of 5 states after which the NOTA option was introduced in the 2014 General Elections. The Apex Court of the nation was of the opinion that a citizens' right not to vote is a part of the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression enshrined under the Constitution of India. The case was brought to the attention of the Supreme Court due to the rule under Representation of People Act, 1951 in which an officer of the Election Commission of India of a specific polling booth had to note down the name and thumb impression of the voter who decided not to vote for any of the political parties. The act though recognized a citizens' right to vote, did not protect the identity of the specific voter.

Facts Of The Case

Section 33B of the Representation of People Act, 1951 stated that the elected candidate need not disclose any information other than which is required under the aforementioned Act. The Supreme Court had opined in the case of Union of India v. Association for Democratic Reforms that the citizens of the country had a right to know about an electoral candidate's educational qualification, criminal history and financial assets before casting their vote. Though this judgment gave relief to the millions of voters of the country at the same time Section 33B made the judgement ineffective.

Rationale Behind NOTA

Chief Justice of India, P. Venakatarama Reddi while passing the judgement in this case was of the view that the citizens of the country had a right to know about a political candidate's history regarding his merits and demerits. This information is reinforced under Article 19(1)(a) as voting can also be taken as citizens form of expression. The right to vote though is not a fundamental right nor a constitutional right but the act of a voter going to the polling booth and casting their vote comes under a citizen's fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression as it is the citizens preference while choosing a suitable candidate to vote for.

Universal Adult Suffrage has made it possible for the millions of voters of the country to take part in a free and fair elections and be a part in choosing the governance of a country. For a country to be truly democratic it is important that political parties put a candidate who is of high moral values and works for the betterment of the country, thus by providing the voters with a NOTA button, is a way of compelling the political parties to put up a candidate who has a clean image. The chief justice was also of the opinion that a voter would rather not turn up to polling booth than vote for a negative candidate, a NOTA button would send clear signals to the parties what the public thinks about their candidates.

Eliminate The Privacy Infringement

The main goal of the Supreme Court of India's approval of NOTA was to eliminate the privacy infringement that would have resulted from the previous legislation. But the argument about confidentiality is just a front for the free speech argument. The Representation of Peoples Act of 1951 and the Conduct of Elections Rules of 1961 were found to be illegal by the court, despite the fact that it did not take the initiative to acknowledge that the ability to express dissatisfaction by voting is guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a). It is true, however, that a person's right to privacy shouldn't be violated just because they choose not to support any particular candidate. Voting was kept optional primarily because it gave the populace of the nation a choice in the event of discontent. It is regarded as more of a civil obligation than a right to vote. Nonetheless, the State is undermining the entire goal of the right by disclosing a voter who makes this decision. Thus, maintaining responsible voter confidentiality will always contribute to the long-term growth of democracy.

Instrument To Cast Negative Ballots

India is home to a democratic multiparty system. But voters have discovered that wealth, connections, and crime play a central role in all or any of the parties. The current trend is the increased illegality of politics, widespread wealth abuse, and corruption. A significant proportion of Members of Parliament (MPs) are facing criminal accusations. In the state of Uttar Pradesh, 47% of Legislative Assembly (MLA) members were facing criminal charges as of 2012. In the state of Bihar, the comparable percentage was 58% as of 2010. Theoretically, all political parties concur that people with criminal histories shouldn't run for office. To put the people back in control, NOTA is just one initiative among many. New concepts, initiatives, and legislation resulted from the progressive awakening of Indian voters. The candidates were asked by the Supreme Court in 2003 to reveal any criminal activity they had committed. Voters should be allowed to cast negative ballots, according to a 2004 public interest lawsuit filed by the non-governmental group People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). In order to reflect the goals and needs of the people as well as the wishes of society, our democratic institutions need constantly change.


The electoral process undoubtedly becomes drawn out, difficult, and unmanageable as a result of NOTA. It is also true that an election system that is repeated multiple times in order to decide the winners would cause the populace to become irritable and unresponsive. If not, Indian people would be deprived of their newfound power, and the only thing that will change is the number of NOTA votes cast, which will not affect Indian politics or society. This means that the primary goal of the ruling, which was to lessen the impact of sectarian voting and try to encourage political parties to select better candidates, will be defeated. Instead, NOTA will become a register for recording neutral votes, and this neutral voting will have the least impact on Indian political parties. A critical review of the NOTA ruling shows that, although a significant step, the deeply ingrained problems in the Indian electoral system will not be resolved by it. That is a positive start, but much more work has to be done to guarantee that India's democracy is genuinely responsible, representative of and receptive to popular desire. A more dynamic and inclusive democracy is a continuous process, and the NOTA ruling marks an important turning point in that direction.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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