- GS-2: Functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies.
- GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Linking voter rolls to Aadhaar
Context: Rajya Sabha passed by voice vote The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021, enabling “the linking of electoral roll data with the Aadhaar ecosystem” as the Opposition walked out in protest. The Bill had been passed by Lok Sabha.
- The Bill amends the Representation of the People Act, 1950 and the Representation of the People Act, 1951 to implement certain electoral reforms.
- The 1950 Act provides that a person may apply to the electoral registration officer for inclusion of their name.
- The amendment Bill says the electoral registration officer may require a person to furnish their Aadhaar number for establishing their identity. If their name is already in the electoral roll, then the Aadhaar number may be required for authentication of entries in the roll, but people will not be denied inclusion in the electoral roll or have their names deleted, if they are unable to show their Aadhaar cards.
What is the government’s argument for bringing the Bill?
- The government says the Bill incorporates various electoral reforms that have been discussed for a long time.
- The government says linking Aadhaar with electoral rolls will solve the problem of multiple enrolments of the same person at different places. This will consequently reduce electoral malpractices.
- 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’.
- Indeed, this can also allow for remote voting, a measure that could help migrant voters.
- The four qualifying dates for revision of rolls will help in faster enrolment of those who turn 18.
- The incidence of multiple entry could also be eliminated which is required in participative democracy.
- In Parliament, Law Minister said linking Aadhaar with the voter ID card is voluntary. It is not compulsory or mandatory.
- Government held “many meetings” with the Election Commission before the Bill was brought.
What are the Opposition’s objections?
- Violation of Right to Privacy: There is criticism that the linking of voter IDs and Aadhaar violates the fundamental right to privacy as defined by the Supreme Court in the judgment. There is a view that the Bill could violate secrecy of the vote undermining the principle of secret ballots.
- May not solve problem of voting by non-Citizens: Aadhaar is not proof of citizenship and it is said so very clearly in the Aadhaar Act. There are doubts on how this will prevent non-citizens (especially Nepalis & Bangladeshis) from voting because non-citizens can have an Aadhar card. The goal of preventing non-citizens from voting will not be solved with Aadhaar.
- Mirco-Targeting using leaked data: 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 UIDAI complained to police about a Hyderabad-based software company, 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
- Voluntary Provision: One of the concerns is whether the Bill’s implementation will be successful if the linkage is not compulsory. The Bill says the election registration officer may require the submission of the Aadhaar number both for new enrolments and those already enrolled. The choice not to submit is linked to a “sufficient cause”, which will be separately prescribed.
- Judicial Scrutiny: The tests laid down by the Supreme Court — a permissible law, a legitimate state interest and proportionality has not been rigorously examined due to lack of deliberation in Parliament.
- If an individual’s refusal to submit the detail is deemed unacceptable, it may result in loss of franchise. Therefore, the measure may fail the test of proportionality.
- Profiling Concerns: There are allegations that the government would be able to use voter identity details for “profiling the citizens”.
Can individual votes be tracked that way?
- While individual identification of voting choices may not be possible with the linkage of Aadhaar with voter IDs, it will lead to profiling.
- 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
If the Government really has no ulterior motive in the form of triggering mass deletions from the electoral rolls, it must invite public opinion and allow deeper parliamentary scrutiny before implementing the new provisions that now have the approval of both Houses of Parliament.
Connecting the dots: