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Baba’s Explainer – Aadhaar-Voter ID linkage

  • IASbaba
  • September 1, 2022
  • 0
Governance, Indian Polity & Constitution
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Syllabus

  • 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

Context: Reports have surfaced online of instances where block level officers have asked individuals to link their Aadhaar with their Voter IDs, failing which their Voter IDs could be cancelled. This comes in the aftermath of the Election Commission’s (EC) campaign to promote the linkage of Voter ID and Aadhaar that began on August 1.

  • In the first ten days since its launch, the campaign saw almost 2.5 crore Aadhaar holders voluntarily submitting their details to the EC.
Why does the government want Aadhar-Voter ID linkage?
  • 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 EC conducts regular exercises to maintain an updated and accurate record of the voter base. A part of this exercise is to weed out duplication of voters, such as migrant workers who may have been registered more than once on the electoral rolls in different constituencies or for persons registered multiple times within the same constituency.
  • As per the government, linkage of Aadhaar with voter IDs will assist in ensuring that only one Voter ID is issued per citizen of India.

The preference to use Aadhaar for verification and authentication stems from two reasons.

  • Near Universal Coverage of Aadhar: At the end of 2021, 99.7% of the adult Indian population had an Aadhaar card. This coverage exceeds that of any other officially valid document such as driver’s licence, ration cards, PAN cards etc that are mostly applied for specific purposes.
  • Provision of Biometric Authentication: Since Aadhaar allows for biometric authentication, Aadhaar based authentication and verification is considered more reliable, quicker and cost efficient when compared to other IDs.

Is the linking of Aadhaar with one’s Voter ID mandatory?

  • In December 2021, Parliament passed the Election Laws (Amendment) Act, 2021 to amend the Representation of the People Act, 1950 that inserted section 23(4).
  • Section 23(4) states that the electoral registration officer may “for the purpose of establishing the identity of any person” or “for the purposes of authentication of entries in electoral roll”, require them to furnish their Aadhaar numbers.
  • To reflect this amendment, in June 2022, the government notified changes to the Registration of Electors Rules, 1960. Rule 26B was added to provide that “every person whose name is listed in the roll may intimate his Aadhar number to the registration officer”.
  • Both the government and the EC has stated that linkage of the Aadhaar with Voter ID is optional, this does not seem to be reflected in Form 6B issued under the new Rule 26B.
  • Form 6B provides the voter to either submit their Aadhaar number or any other listed document. However, the option to submit other listed documents is exercisable only if the voter is “not able to furnish their Aadhaar number because they do not have an Aadhaar number”.
  • To that extent, the element of choice that has been incorporated in the amendments seem to be negated or at the very least thrown into confusion.
Why is the mandatory linking of Aadhaar to the Voter ID an issue?
  • There are concerns whether such mandatory linkage of Aadhaar with Voter ID would pass the test of being “necessary and proportionate” to the purpose of de-duplication which is sought to be achieved.
  • Some argue that mandatory linking of Aadhar is violative of their informational autonomy (right to privacy) which would allow them to decide which official document they want to use for verification and authentication.
    • In Puttaswamy, one of the questions that the Supreme Court explored was whether the mandatory linking of Aadhaar with bank accounts was constitutional or not.
    • The Court held that depriving a person of their right to property for non-linkage fell foul of the test of proportionality.
  • Moreover, in Lal Babu Hussein (1995), the Supreme Court had held that the Right to vote cannot be disallowed by insisting only on four proofs of identity — voters can rely on any other proof of identity and obtain the right to vote.
What are the operational difficulties?
  • Cannot weed out non-citizens from electoral Roll: Aadhaar is only a proof of residence and not a proof of citizenship. Therefore, verifying voter identity against Aadhar will only help in tackling duplication but will not remove voters who are not citizens of India from the electoral rolls.
  • Error Rate: As per UIDAI in 2018, Aadhaar based biometric authentication had a 12% error rate. This led the Supreme Court to hold in Puttaswamy that a person would not be denied of benefits in case Aadhaar based authentication could not take place.  Also, the experience of linking Aadhar with Voter ID in Andhra Prades and Telangana in 2015 was not encouraging (process led to disenfranchisement of around 30 lakh voters forcing SC to stall the process)
  • Lack of data protection law: Civil society has highlighted that linkage of Aadhaar’s “demographic” information with voter ID information may lead to violation of the right to privacy and surveillance measures by the state. To address these concerns, one needs to have enforceable data protection principles that regulate how authentication data will be used.
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
Way Forward
  • Even as the amendments have been made and the EC has launched a campaign for linkage, a writ petition has filed with the Supreme Court challenging the same.
  • it is important that the government clarifies through correction in Form 6B that the linking is not mandatory and expedites the enactment of a data protection legislation that allays concerns of unauthorised processing of personal data held by the government.

Mains Practice Question –What challenges do you foresee in linking Aadhar with Voter’s ID card? What measures would you suggest to overcome these challenges?

Note: Write answers to this question in the comment section.


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