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The importance of developing the practice of citizenship development for electoral participation is vital to investment in future of democracy and its sustenance. Citizenship development in a democracy is about developing effective electoral engagement, participation, making informed choices and ethical ballot decisions. In the given context, one of the key goals of society is to have an active democratic citizenry originating in integrated civic and voter education and participation right from a young age. Young and Future Voters have been in focus across the democracies of the world for larger electoral participation through well designed electoral literacy programmes. As per the Census 2011, there are 14.2 crore young people in the age group 14-19 in India. Given the registration and voting age of 18, there is a sizeable voter age population in 18-19 besides an equally large population of the future voters in the age group 14-17 who would become voters every year next. As per the Census Data 2011, there are 9.68 crore children in the age-group 14-17 years with 6.84 crore in rural and 2.83 crore in urban areas. Of these 6.97 crore were enrolled in schools, with 4.76 crore in rural and 2.21 crore in urban. The young and future voters, demonstratedly, constitute a sizeable part of India’s democratic polity and its future. Also Census Data 2011, reveals that there are 30.52 crore children in the age-group 6-17 years with 22.17 crore in rural and 8.34 crore in urban areas, of which 24.01 were enrolled in schools, with 17.14 crore in rural and 6.86 crore in urban schools. It is imperative that young people’s voices are heard, their interests for electoral participation understood and encouraged through careful study, research and investment in the future of democracy and obliterating any perceived civic deficit. While today’s youth is the most connected in history, their potential in creating electoral awareness and educating and engaging the communities, peer group and future generations needs to be effectively appreciated and harnessed. Investment focusing on educating, engaging and empowering them through well designed strategic interventions in electoral literacy would help in generating a population capable of comfortable and confident electoral participation besides exercising informed and ethical ballot decisions. Election Commission of India has included sharp focus and mainstreaming of electoral literacy for this segment under its Strategic Plan 2016-2025.
SVEEP I (2009-2013) :- SVEEP owes its origin to the managerial underlining and identification of the gaps in registration of eligible citizens as voters and the larger glaring gap in voter turnout during the previous elections. In India, the turnout had historically stagnated at around 55-60% only, leaving out the choices of millions of eligible citizens. This identification was followed by the intellectual comprehension that low participation could adversely impact the quality of democracy and there was a need for management interventions to address this problem. A small, yet interesting experimental beginning was made under the banner of IEC (Information, Education, Communication) with linkages to the state legislature elections that followed.
SVEEP-II (April 2013 to 2014) :- Drawing strength from the experience, innovation and the best practices evolved under SVEEP Phase I, SVEEP-II was initiated in April, 2013 and continued till the General Elections 2014 in the country. It included a planned strategy for a targeted approach on gaps in registration and voter turnout. It also focused on awareness for informed, inclusive, fear free and inducement free voting under a broader framework of civic education. It included content development for neo-literate and non-literate groups, targetted interventions on major gaps related to participation of women, urbanvoters, youth, PwDs to be carefully and comprehensively planned by the respective Chief Electoral Officers. Flexibility was given to the District Election Officers to innovate for better outputs in consultation with the CEOs. It witnessed institutionalization of its implementation structures along with strengthening of the partnerships for maximizing the impact of the outreach. Partnerships with concerned Ministries and Departments for sustained interventions aimed at strengthening the voter education for electoral literacy were forged. An MoU was signed by the ECI with the National Literacy Mission Authority (NLMA), Ministry of HRD, in 2013 for collaboration in electoral literacy under the ‘Sakshar Bharat Programme’. As a consequence, the ECI has been able to extend its voter education programme through the substantive network of the NLMA to cover a large population. Lok Sabha elections 2014 was the main area of focus, besides it also covered 10 General Elections to the State Assemblies. In view of the sustained efforts under SVEEP, the voter turnout increased to 66.44% during General Elections 2014 from 58.19% during 2009 Lok Sabha Elections with substantial increase in voter turnout in assembly elections as well.
SVEEP-III (2016-2020) :- Though, the first two phases of SVEEP essentially focused on voter education for 18+population in the country, the significance, role and potential of future voters in the younger age group (under 18 years) has been recognized through their engagement under SVEEP in various activities and events in schools every year around National Voters’ Day (25th January). Having achieved enhanced electoral participation through SVEEP I and II, the programme now aims at complete and quality electoral participation under SVEEP III (2016). One of the strategic pillars of SVEEP III is ‘Continuous Electoral Literacy and Democracy Education’ under which one of the objectives is electoral literacy in the curricula.