The Lead

Who is an ‘ordinarily resident’ eligible for enrolment as voter?

Jammu: As all political parties operative in Jammu and Kashmir, other than Bhartiya Janta Party, have raised their strong objection to registration of non-resident persons as voters here, everyone is asking about the definition of the ‘ordinarily residing’ persons.

Chief Election Officer, Hridesh Kumar Singh, who triggered the reaction by saying that with ordinarily residing residents being eligible the vote count could rise by 20 to 25 lakh, has left the rules unexplained and hence scope for the confusion and criticism. A couple of agency and newspaper reports have extensively ‘unnamed’ government officials to say that with application of Representation of Peoples’ Act 1950 and 1951, replacing Jammu and Kashmir Representation of Peoples’ Act 1957, any citizen of India ordinarily residing in Jammu and Kashmir is eligible for registration as voter her.

Reports have also said that similar rules apply in all states of the country. However, there is no clear definition of the ‘ordinarily residing’ residents. CEO Hridesh Kumar Singh had said EROs (Electoral Registration Officers) and AEROs shall be the final authority to decide on legitimacy of ‘ordinarily residing’ residents.

The ’not so easy to understand’ meaning of the ‘ordinarily residing’ residents is given in Section 20 of the Representation of Peoples Act.  Election Commission’s Handbook for the EROs explains it further. Relevant paragraphs from the ERO Handbooks are reproduced below without editing:

Meaning of ‘ordinarily resident’ (Section 20 of the RPA 1950):

  1. A person is said to be ordinarily resident in a place if he uses that place for sleeping. He need not be eating in that place and may be eating from a place outside. Temporary periods of absence from this ordinary place of stay can be ignored. It is not necessary that the period of stay should be continuous for any particular length of time and should be without any break. Temporary absence on account of duty or employment or even for pleasure should not be considered to interrupt the concept of ordinary residence. It is purely a question of fact whether a person is ordinarily resident at a particular place or not. Mere absence for some time will not deprive a person of the qualification of ordinary residence if he possesses ability to return and has intention to return to that place. Persons who have gone out of the country for business or employment should be treated as having moved out of that place. Mere ownership or possession of a building or other immovable property will not bestow on the owner, the residential qualification. On the other hand even persons living in sheds and persons living on pavements without any roof are eligible for enrolment provided they are ordinarily resident in the sheds or on pavements in a particular area, do not change the place of residence and are otherwise identifiable.

Exceptions to the general principle of ordinary residence:

  1. Members of Parliament and the State Legislatures are entitled to be registered in their home constituencies notwithstanding the fact that they are away from their normal place of residence in connection with their activities as legislators.
  2. Inmates of jails, other legal custody, hospitals, beggar homes, asylums etc. should not be included in the electoral rolls of the constituency in which such institutions are located.
  1. Students, if otherwise eligible, living in a hostel or mess or lodge more or less continuously, going back to his normal home or place of residence only for short periods, can be held to be ordinarily resident in the place where the hostel or mess or lodge is situated. However, if they so wish, they have the option of retaining their enrollment at their residence with their parents instead. [During intensive revision, students shall not be enumerated at their hostels. They shall be enrolled subsequently on application in Form 6 with bonafide student and hostel resident certificate]. Also refer to para 5 of chapter IV.
  1. Service Voters: Normally, the serving members of the armed forces of the union or the central para-military forces, i.e. BSF, CRPF, CISF, ITBP, NSG, GREF and Assam Rifles to which provisions of Army Act, 1950 have been made applicable whether with or without modification, State Armed Police personnel posted outside state, and the government servant posted outside India are enrolled in their native places and not at their places of postings. They are called ‘Service Voters’.

Thus, electors having a service qualification are entitled to get registered at their native places which may be different from their ordinary residence. The wife of a service voter if she ordinarily resides with her husband, is also entitled to get registered in the last part of electoral roll with her husband.

  1. Persons holding declared offices: The holder of a declared office who desires to be registered as an elector in the constituency in which, but for his holding such office, he would have been ordinarily resident, can also get registered there. 

Declared office holders at the center are President and Vice President, Ministers and Ministers of state and Deputy Ministers of the Union, Deputy Chairman and Members of the Planning Commission, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha and Parliamentary Secretaries of the Union. Declared office holders of a state are, Governor, Cabinet Ministers, Ministers of State and Deputy Ministers, Chairman and Deputy Chairman of State Legislative Council, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of State Legislative Assembly, Parliamentary Secretaries of state and the Lt. Governor of UTs. A declared office holder will specify in his statement the place where he would have been ordinarily resident but for holding the office. However, the statement made by the declared office holder is not final and it will be open to the persons who are in possession of such evidence to object to the inclusion of name of a holder of declared office.

  1. It would be clear from above that all cases cannot be dealt with in an identical manner nor can any uniform rule be laid down to define ordinary residence. Generally speaking, a person should not be enrolled at an address where he is staying temporarily; and on the other hand, he is to be enrolled at his normal place of residence even though he may be temporarily absent from there. 

Section 20 of the Representation of Peoples’ Act, 1950, offers following definition of the ordinary residents:

    1. Meaning of “ordinarily resident”.-

 (1) A person shall not be deemed to be ordinary resident in a constituency on the ground only that he owns, or is in possession of, a dwelling house therein.

 (1A) A person absenting himself temporarily from his place of ordinary residence shall not by reason thereof cease to be ordinarily resident therein.

 (1B) A member of Parliament or of the Legislature of a State shall not during the term of his office cease to be ordinarily resident in the constituency in the electoral roll of which he is registered as an elector at the time of his election as such member, by reason of his absence from that constituency in connection with his duties as such member.

 (2) A person who is a patient in any establishment maintained wholly or mainly for the reception and treatment of persons suffering from mental illness or mental defectiveness, or who is detained in prison or other legal custody at any place, shall not by reason thereof be deemed to be ordinarily resident therein.

 (3) Any person having a service qualification shall be deemed to be ordinarily resident on any date in the constituency in which, but for his having such service qualification, he would have been ordinarily resident on that date.

 (4) Any person holding any office in India declared by the President in consultation with the Election Commission to be an office to which the provisions of this sub-section apply, shall be deemed to be ordinarily resident on any date in the constituency in which, but for the holding of any such office, he would have been ordinarily resident on that date.

 (5) The statement of any such person as is referred to in sub-section (3) or sub-section (4) made in the prescribed form and verified in the prescribed manner, that but for his having the service qualification or but for his holding any such office as is referred to in sub-section (4) he would have been ordinarily resident in a specified place on any date, shall, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, be accepted or correct.

 (6) The wife of any such person as is referred to in sub-section (3) or sub-section (4) shall if she be ordinarily residing with such person be deemed to be ordinarily resident on in the constituency specified by such person under sub-section (5).

 (7) If in any case a question arises as to where a person is ordinarily resident at any relevant time, the question shall be determined with reference to all the facts of the case and to such rules as may be made in this behalf by the Central Government in consultation with the Election Commission.

 (8) In sub-sections (3) and (5) “ service qualification” means –

(a) being a member of the armed forces of the Union; or

(b) being a member of a force to which the provisions of the Army Act, 1950 (46 of 1950), have been made applicable whether with or without modifications; or

(c) being a member of an armed police force of a State, who is serving outside that State; or

(d) being a person who is employed under the Government of India, in a post outside India.


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