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Anti-poor? 'Cumbersome' to link aadhaar, voter ID for people sans internet access

By Prashant Kumar Chaudhary, Ajit Kumar Jaiswal* 

At present, technology plays an increasingly crucial part in modelling human existence by offering a variety of solutions to many of the challenges individuals confront in the real world. As a result, every branch of research works to provides means to solve these difficulties precisely and efficiently. The Central government works along the same lines as well.
The Election Commission of India issues voter ID 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, Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021 enables the linkage between AADHAR and Voter-ID, which the central government proclaims will assist in curbing multiple registrations of the same voter at different places.
This bill adds several sections to the existing Representation of the People Act, 1950 thereby giving authority to the electoral registration officer to ask for aadhaar card and verify the identity of a voter to add his/her name in the electoral roll. The prime objective of the bill, as stated in the Rajya Sabha is to deal with the "the menace of multiple enrolments."
“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 said.
The government argues that this process will screen and strike fake and duplicate voter IDs off the electoral roll. Playing down the apprehensions of opposition political parties in Parliament, Law Minister Kiren Rijiju stated, linking aadhaar with the voter ID card “is voluntary. It is not compulsory or mandatory”. That is to say, no voter would be denied the right to vote even if he/she does not own an aadhaar card or his/her card is not linked with the respective voter ID.
However, there are several consternations related to the bill which deserve to be addressed before implementation. First, the bill in substance contradicts the ‘voluntary’ argument of the minister. It mentions that the addition and deletion of a voter’s name in/from the electoral roll is subject to ‘sufficient cause as may be prescribed’ and deemed fit by the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO). i.e., a voter can be allowed to vote or register as a voter only if an ERO finds so.
It implies that the voter’s explanation in failing to produce the Aadhaar card or linking it with the voter ID is left to the discretion of the ERO. Hence, the bill provides considerable power to the ERO to decide the fate of a voter and could hinder his/her right to vote.
Additionally, the ERO can ask a voter to furnish aadhaar card to check the authenticity of the person. This provision is anything but voluntary. It inherently implies that the central government might shortly introduce a bill in the parliament mentioning the different scenarios under which a voter is exempted from showing the aadhaar to the ERO.
Secondly, the bill also generates the fear of exclusion from the electoral roll. In this regard, the pilot project launched warrants deeper attention. In 2015, National Electoral Roll Purification and Authentication Programme (NERPAP) was floated in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, to link aadhaar with voter ID.
Within months of launching the programme, the Supreme Court of India discontinued the pilot project and passed an order stating that aadhaar is to be used only for the purpose of PDS and LPG. However, the damage had already been done. The subsequent assembly election in Telangana in 2018 witnessed the deletion of nearly 30 lakh names in Telangana, and over 21 lakh names in Andhra Pradesh.
Election officials later cited serval unsubstantiated reasons for the decline in voters’ number in the states, such as bifurcation of the states, death of voters, duplication of voter IDs and software malfunction. In this case, there was no door-to-door verification of voter ID as should have been done to avoid discrepancies.
Thirdly, the bill might compromise the voters’ privacy if it is linked with the voter ID. As many have argued, in case of aadhaar, an agency might use the data collected from large number of applicants for its benefit by selling the data which would place a check on voters’ individual liberty and encroach on individual fundamental rights.
Following a pilot project in 2018 one saw deletion of nearly 30 lakh voter names in Telangana, and 21 lakh names in Andhra Pradesh
Apart from the above cited issues with the process of linking the two cards, there are also several other related concerns which are of equal importance, and which may obstruct the true objective of the process of linking the two cards. Hypothetically, if a problem is found with any one of the cards, then a voter might lose the right to vote as liking the two would not be possible.
Additionally, a great amount of time and effort would be needed to sort out any discrepancies reported by the voter, suggesting that fixing the voters’ problem of linking the aadhaar with voter ID will be a tenuous task to resolve, more so during elections.
Besides, requiring the provision of linking the aadhaar with voter ID would be a cumbersome process for a voter who does not have internet access and/or internet literacy to link the two. It has been seen in case of aadhaar that initially, the government argued that the card would not be mandatory for anyone to avail any social and economic policies of the state, which later became de facto mandatory through practice and government officials, colleges, hospitals, employers began demanding aadhaar from applicants.
Expelling bogus voters from the electoral roll (which the bill intends to achieve) is an ethical thought, but it is marred by several constitutional, technical and implementational problems. If the government seriously hopes to achieve the objective of the bill, it needs to initially tackle general concerns raised from all quarters, ensuring that not a single voter loses his/her voting right, which is a vital hallmark of a functioning democracy like India.
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*Prashant Kumar Chaudhary is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Kumaraguru College of Liberal Arts and Science, Coimbatore; Ajit Kumar Jaiswal is Senior Doctoral Fellow, International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai

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