By Prashant Kumar Chaudhary, Ajit Kumar Jaiswal*
Today, technology is playing an increasingly crucial role in shaping human existence by offering a variety of solutions to many of the challenges individuals face in the real world. Accordingly, each branch of research works to provide means to resolve these difficulties with precision and efficiency. The central government is also working in the same direction.
The Election Commission of India issues voter identification cards, which are used to identify voters and issues booth slips to facilitate the voting process. However, this method is unable to establish and maintain adequate security and authenticity.
The recently passed Electoral Laws (Amendment) Bill 2021 allows for the link between AADHAR and voter identification, which the central government says will help curb multiple registrations of the same voter at different locations.
This bill adds several sections to the current Representation of the People Act 1950, thus empowering the voter registration officer to apply for an aadhaar card and verify the identity of a voter to add their name on the voters list. The main purpose of the bill, as stated in the Rajya Sabha, is to deal with “the threat of multiple registrations”.
“Once the Aadhaar link is established, the voter roll data system will instantly alert the existence of previous registrations whenever a person requests a new registration. This will go a long way in cleaning up voter rolls and making it easier to register voters in the place where they are ‘usually resident’,” a government official said.
The government maintains that this process will filter and remove fake IDs and duplicate voter rolls. Playing down apprehensions from opposition political parties in parliament, Justice Minister Kiren Rijiju said linking aadhaar to voter ID “is voluntary. It is neither obligatory nor obligatory”. That is, no voter would be denied the right to vote even if they do not have an aadhaar card or their card is not linked to the identity card of the respective voter.
However, there are several consternations related to the bill that are worth addressing before its implementation. First, the bill substantially contradicts the minister’s “voluntary” argument. It mentions that the addition and deletion of a voter’s name in/from the voters list is subject to “sufficient cause as may be prescribed” and deemed appropriate by the Voter Registration Officer (ERO). that is, a voter can only be allowed to vote or register as a voter if an ERO finds it.
This implies that the voter’s explanation for not producing the Aadhaar card or linking it to the voter’s ID card is left to the discretion of the ERO. Therefore, the bill grants considerable power to the ERO to decide the fate of a voter and could interfere with their right to vote.
Additionally, the ERO may ask a voter to provide an aadhaar card to verify the person’s authenticity. This provision is anything but voluntary. This inherently implies that the central government may soon present a bill to parliament mentioning the different scenarios in which a voter is exempted from showing aadhaar to the ERO.
Second, the bill also generates the fear of exclusion from the electoral lists. In this regard, the pilot project launched deserves further attention. In 2015, the National Voter List Purification and Authentication Program (NERPAP) was launched in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, to link aadhaar to voter identification.
A few months after the launch of the program, the Supreme Court of India halted the pilot project and issued an order stating that aadhaar should only be used for the purposes of PDS and LPG. However, the damage was already done. The ensuing assembly election in Telangana in 2018 saw the removal of nearly 30 lakh names in Telangana and over 21 lakh names in Andhra Pradesh.
Third, the bill could compromise voter privacy if it is tied to the identity of the voter. As many have argued, in the event of aadhaar, an agency could use the data collected from a large number of candidates for its own benefit by selling the data, which would put a check on voters’ individual freedom and infringe on individual fundamental rights.
Following a pilot project in 2018, nearly 30 lakh voter names were removed in Telangana and 21 lakh voter names in Andhra Pradesh
Apart from the above-cited problems with the process of linking the two cards, there are also several other related problems which are of equal importance and which can hamper the true purpose of the process of linking the two cards. Hypothetically, if a problem is found with one of the cards, a voter could lose the right to vote because liking both would not be possible.
Moreover, a lot of time and effort would be required to sort out the voter-reported discrepancies, suggesting that solving the voters problem of linking aadhaar to voter identity will be a tenuous task at hand. resolve, especially during elections.
Furthermore, requiring the provision of a link between the aadhaar and the voter’s identity would be a cumbersome process for a voter who does not have internet access and/or is not internet savvy to link the two. It was seen in the case of aadhaar that initially the government argued that the card would not be compulsory for anyone to avail themselves of the social and economic policies of the state, which later became de facto compulsory by the practice and officials, colleges, hospitals, employers started to demand aadhaar from applicants.
Expelling bogus voters from the voter rolls (which the bill intends to achieve) is an ethical idea, but it is marred by several constitutional, technical, and implementation issues. If the government is serious about achieving the objective of the bill, it must first address the general concerns raised on all sides, ensuring that no voter loses their right to vote, which is a hallmark essential to a democracy that works like India.
*Prashant Kumar Chaudhary is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Kumaraguru College of Liberal Arts and Science, Coimbatore; Ajit Kumar Jaiswal is Senior Doctoral Researcher, International Institute of Population Science, Mumbai