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Bill to be brought in Parl for amending electoral laws

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New Delhi: A bill is set to be brought in the Budget session of Parliament to amend two electoral laws to allow the conduct of a limited delimitation exercise in West Bengal for bestowing voting rights on people who became citizens of the country following the exchange of enclaves between India and Bangladesh.

The Union Cabinet today gave its nod to amend Section 11 of the Delimitation Act, 2002 and Section 9 of the Representation of the People Act, 1950, an official statement said.

Once passed, the proposed Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2016 will enable the Election Commission to carry out limited delimitation of assembly and parliamentary constituencies in Cooch Behar district of West Bengal following the exchange of 51 Bangladeshi and 111 Indian enclaves in July last year.

The term of the 294-member West Bengal Assembly ends on May 29 and elections are likely to be held before that.

Sources in the Law Ministry said that at a recent meeting between officials of the Law Ministry and the Election Commission, the poll body made it clear that it was necessary to grant voting rights to these people as the assembly polls in the state were nearing.

Following delimitation, these people will be made voters of assembly and parliamentary constituencies.

The enclaves were exchanged pursuant to the 1974 Land Boundary Agreement and 2011 Protocol and Instruments of Ratification during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Bangladesh on June 6-7 last year.

Other than the 14,000 people of the 51 enclaves that became part of India, about 921 who came from Bangladesh have also become Indian citizens.

Law Ministry was earlier planning to bring an ordinance to amend the two laws. But the idea was shot down at a meeting of inter-ministerial group chaired by Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Monday last as dates of the Budget session were set to be announced the next day. As per convention, ordinances are avoided when session dates are announced.

While session would commence on February 23, the proposed bill is likely to be introduced on March 1. The plan is to get it passed by both the Houses by March 4 so that the EC, in the limited time it has, can begin the delimitation exercise.

The last delimitation in West Bengal was held in 2008 and laws needed to be amended for a fresh, but limited delimitation exercise, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said briefing reporters on Cabinet decisions.

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