As the Opposition walked out in protest, the Rajya Sabha passed The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021 by voice vote, allowing “the linkage of electoral register data with the Aadhaar ecosystem.” On Monday, the Lok Sabha passed the bill.
What is the government’s justification for pushing this bill forward?
According to the government, the Bill comprises a number of long-debated election reforms.
The government claims that connecting Aadhaar to electoral rolls would eliminate duplicate enrolments of the same individual in various areas. “Once Aadhaar is linked, the electoral roll data system will alert the presence of prior registration(s) whenever a person requests a new registration.”According to a government official, this will greatly assist in cleansing the electoral record and facilitating elector registration in the place where they are “ordinarily resident.”
According to a Parliamentary Standing Committee report on the Law Ministry’s grant demands, which was presented in Rajya Sabha on March 6 this year, “the Committee has been advocating linkage of unique Aadhaar ID Card number with voter I-card which would streamline alterations in EPIC during a change of ordinary residence by the electors.”Multiple entry might also be eliminated, which is necessary in participatory democracy. “
Law Minister Kiren Rijiju said in Parliament that attaching Aadhaar to the voter ID card is “optional.” It is neither obligatory nor necessary. Before the bill was introduced, he stated the administration had “several meetings” with the Election Commission.
What were the topics of these debates?
The Election Commission launched a National Electoral Roll Purification and Authentication Program in March 2015, with the goal of linking Aadhaar to voter IDs and removing duplicate names. In a statement in May 2015, the EC stated that “Under this initiative, apart from certain other activities, linkage and verification of EPIC data of voters with Aadhaar data is also being done.” The EC, on the other hand, had “given required directions to the Chief Electoral Officers (CEOS) of the States/UTs clarifying that voters’ provision of Aadhaar numbers is not obligatory and is merely voluntary, as ordered by the Supreme Court…”
“The Aadhaar Card Scheme is absolutely voluntary and it cannot be made obligatory till the question is fully determined by this Court one way or the other,“ the Supreme Court said that year.
The EC wrote to the Law Ministry in April this year, requesting “rapid consideration” of outstanding election changes, including the linking of Aadhar and voter ID cards. The Election Commission attended an informal interaction requested by the PMO on November 16 to finalise the Cabinet note on several long-pending changes, according to a statement released by the Law Ministry earlier this week.
What are the objections of the opposition?
“The connection of voter IDs with Aadhaar breaches the basic right to privacy as established by the Supreme Court in the verdict,” said Congress leader Manish Tewari.
Asaduddin Owaisi, an AIMIM MP, claimed that if the Bill becomes law, the government would be allowed to utilise voter-identifying information to “disenfranchise certain individuals and profile citizens.” “This bill falls outside of this House’s legislative authority… “The integration of voter ID with Aadhaar breaches the Puttaswamy (case) basic right to privacy,” Owaisi stated.
“The current legislative provisions have significant disparities and some flaws,” Rijiju said. To address these, the government, in conjunction with the Election Commission and integrating suggestions made by the Election Commission, has adopted these revisions. He went through the proposed changes to the 1951 Representation of the People Act in detail.
Rijiju cited the 105th report of the Department-Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, and Law and Justice, which said that connecting Aadhaar to electoral records would cleanse electoral rolls, reducing election malpractices.
Why might identifying names that occur on multiple rolls be a problem?
One of the worries is that if the linkage were not mandatory, the bill’s implementation would fail. The bill modifies the People’s Representation Act of 1950 and the People’s Representation Act of 1951 to enact various election changes.
A person may request the electoral registration officer for their name to be added to the voter list under the 1950 Act. According to the bill, an electoral registration official may ask for a person’s Aadhaar number in order to verify their identification. If their name is already on the electoral list, the Aadhaar number may be needed for the validation of entries. However, people who are unable to present their Aadhaar cards will not be refused inclusion in the electoral roll or have their names removed.
“The first rationale presented is that fake voting is taking place, where one individual is voting more than once,” Arghya Sengupta, founder and research director at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, stated. If you claim you have to present it together with your voter ID every time you vote, that will only work if giving Aadhaar is a requirement. However, this aspect of the legislation is a little confusing since, although it seems to be optional, the reasons for which I might choose not to connect my Aadhaar will be dictated by the government for “sufficient cause.” Now, what might that adequate reason be if it isn’t stated in the bill? This has to be stated clearly. “
Are there any additional issues to be concerned about?
According to the opposition, non-citizens would be allowed to vote if Aadhaar is linked. “If you are in a position to ask for an Aadhaar for voters, all you are obtaining is a document that represents domicile, not citizenship,” Congress MP Shashi Tharoor stated in the Lok Sabha. You’re possibly allowing non-citizens to vote. “
“This has also been stated in the House that Nepalis and Bangladeshis would not be permitted to vote, and this will guarantee that this does not happen,” Sengupta said. Here’s where there’s a stumbling block: The Aadhaar Act expressly states that Aadhaar is not evidence of citizenship. We all know that citizens are the only ones who can vote. Because non-citizens may have an Aadhar card, I’m not sure how this would prevent them from voting… Aadhaar will not achieve the purpose of banning non-citizens from voting.
Another concern raised by the CPI(M) in a statement is that the bill could jeopardise voter confidentiality, undermining the concept of secret ballots and the voter’s fundamental right to privacy.
Is it possible to monitor individual votes in this manner?
“While individual identification of voting choices may not be achievable with Aadhaar-linked voter IDs, profiling will result,” stated Apar Gupta, Executive Director of the Internet Freedom Foundation. “The verification of a person’s identification is distinct from the identity capture that occurs in polling booths when a person votes.” However, it may assist the government in connecting it to other services, allowing for the development of wider programmes based on the data. ” “The second problem is that there has been a recorded example of Aadhaar data being leaked,” he said. It has the potential to lay the groundwork for targeted political propaganda, which is also against the model code of conduct. “
The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) filed a police complaint in April 2019 against IT Grids (India) Private Limited, a Hyderabad-based software company, accusing it of illegally obtaining the details of 7,821,397 Aadhaar holders in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and storing them in its databases. Concerns were raised about UIDAI servers’ potential security weaknesses, which the authorities refuted at the time. Although the matter was handed to a special investigative team, no significant progress has been achieved.