Issue of linking voter rolls to the Aadhar

The newly passed Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021 which enables this linkage, that the government states shall help checks various registrations of the same voter. What are Opposition parties opposing this?

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Issue of linking voter rolls to the Aadhar

Rajya Sabha passed by voice vote The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill on Tuesday, 2021, enabling “the linking of electoral roll data with the Aadhaar ecosystem” as the Opposition staged out in protest. On Monday the Bill had been passed by Lok Sabha.

Also Read: Challenges to Democratic processes taken care by Information Technology through True Voter

GOVERNMENT’S ARGUMENT FOR GETTING THE BILL

The government states that the Bill incorporates different electoral reforms that have been discussed for a long time.

The government states that linking Aadhaar with electoral rolls shall solve the problem of multiple enrolments of similar people at various places. “Once Aadhaar linkage is achieved, the electoral roll data system will instantly alert the existence of previous registration(s) whenever a person applies for new registration. This will help in cleaning the electoral roll to a great extent and facilitate elector registration in the location at which they are ‘ordinarily resident’”, a government official stated.

A Parliamentary Standing Committee report on demands of grants of the Law Ministry, showed in Rajya Sabha on 6th March this year, had stated: “The Committee has been advocating linkage of unique Aadhaar ID Card number with voter I-card which would streamline alterations in EPIC during change of ordinary residence by the electors. The incidence of multiple entries could also be eliminated which is required in participative democracy…”

Kiren Rijijuwho is the Law Minister in Parliament, stated linking Aadhaar with the voter ID card “is voluntary. It is not compulsory or mandatory”. He even stated that the government-held “many meetings” with the Election Commission before the Bill was stated.

THE DISCUSSIONS

In March 2015, the Election Commission had inaugurated a National Electoral Roll Purification and Authentication Programme that was to link Aadhaar to voter IDs, in a bid to remove duplicated names. The EC stated in a release in May 2015: “Under this program, besides some other activities, linking and authentication of EPIC data of electors with Aadhaar data are also being done…” However, the EC had “issued necessary instructions to the Chief Electoral Officers (CEOS) of the States/UTs specifying that furnishing of Aadhaar numbers by electors is not mandatory and it is only optional, as directed by the Supreme Court…”

That year, the Supreme Court made it obvious that “the Aadhaar card Scheme is purely voluntary and it cannot be made mandatory till the matter is finally decided by this Court one way or the other”.

OPPOSITION’S OBJECTIONS

Manish Tewari of Congress stated: “The linking of voter IDs and Aadhaar violates the fundamental right to privacy as defined by the Supreme Court in the judgment.”

Asaduddin Owaisi who is the AIMIM MP stated if the Bill becomes an Act, the government would be able to use voter identity details for “disenfranchising some people and profile the citizens”. “This Bill is outside the legislative competence of this House… The linking of voter ID with Aadhaar violates the fundamental right to privacy defined in Puttaswamy (case),” Owaisi further stated.

Rijijumentioned, “The present legal provisions have some disparity and some shortcomings, and to remove the same, the government, in consultation with the Election Commission and incorporating recommendations made by the Election Commission, we have brought these amendments.”

THE PROBLEM WITH IDENTIFYING NAMES THAT APPEAR IN NUMEROUS ROLLS

One of the main concerns is whether Bill’s implementation will be a success if the linkage is not mandatory. The Bill amends the Representation of the People Act, 1950, and the Representation of the People Act, 1951 to implement certain electoral reforms.

Arghya Sengupta who is the founder and research director at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, stated: “The first justification provided is that bogus voting where one person is voting more than once is taking place… If you’re saying you have to provide it along with your voter ID whenever you go to vote… this will only work if providing Aadhaar is mandatory. However, this section in the law is a bit complicated because it does seem voluntary but the reasons on the basis of which I can choose not to link my Aadhaar will be prescribed by the government for ‘sufficient cause’. Now what that sufficient cause could be is not mentioned in the Bill?… This should be made clear.”

OTHER CONCERNS

The Opposition has stated that the Aadhaar linkage will allow non-citizens to vote. Congress MP Shashi Tharoor stated in Lok Sabha that, “If you are in a position asking for Aadhaar for voters, all you are getting is a document that reflects residence, not citizenship. You’re potentially giving the vote to non-citizens.”

Sengupta stated, “This has also been mentioned in the House, that Nepalis and Bangladeshis will not be allowed to vote and this will ensure that doesn’t happen. Now here there is a conceptual confusion… Aadhaar is not proof of citizenship and it is said so very clearly in the Aadhaar Act. We know that voting can only be done by citizens. I’m unable to understand how this will prevent non-citizens from voting because non-citizens can have an Aadhar card… The goal of preventing non-citizens from voting will not be solved with Aadhaar.”

Another major concern, taken up by the CPI(M) in a statement, is the view that the Bill could certainly violate the secrecy of the vote in view of the principle of secret ballots, and the fundamental right to privacy of the voter.

INDIVIDUAL VOTES CAN BE TRACKED OR NOT?

“While individual identification of voting choices may not be possible with the linkage of Aadhaar with voter IDs, it will lead to profiling,” stated Apar Gupta who is the Executive Director of the Internet Freedom Foundation. “Verification of a person’s identity is separate from the capturing of the identity which is already happening in booths when a person goes to vote. But it may help the government link it to other services where larger schemes may be designed based on the data…” He further added: “The other concern is that there is a documented case that Aadhaar data was being leaked. It could lay the foundation of targeted political propaganda which is against the model code of conduct as well.”

In April 2019, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) complained to police about a software company based in Hyderabad namely IT Grids (India) Private Limited, accusing it of illegally procuring details of 7,82,21,397 Aadhaar holders in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and storing these in its databases. Concerns were raised on account of the alleged security vulnerabilities of UIDAI servers, which the authority denied at the time. The case was then transferred to a special investigation team, but the investigation has not made any important progress.

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Issue of linking voter rolls to the Aadhar
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The newly passed Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021 which enables this linkage, that the government states shall help checks various registrations of the same voter. What are Opposition parties opposing this?
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THE POLICY TIMES
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