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India Votes
Identity crisis for poor voters
How do they prove they exist?
Vijay Sanghvi

Both the national parties may claim to champion the cause of the poor but the Aaam Aadmi, it appears, has been abandoned by the system. Millions of Indians cannot obtain a driving licence, own a telephone, secure a voterís identity card or even open a bank account Ėmerely because they cannot produce proof of their residence or evidence of their birth.

The common man may stand in person before the Ďauthorityí but his signature cannot be verified because he may not have a passport, driving licence or voterís identity card etc. with which the signature can be compared. To make matters worse, government offices refuse to accept identity cards issued by private organisations.

Suresh Ram has worked in the same house as a cook for the past 10 years. But when he wanted to open a savings bank account to deposit a cheque he had received from an insurance company on maturity of his policy, he ran into a wall.

He did not need a bank account all these years. He lived in a quarter that is allotted to a peon working in a government department. Therefore, although he pays rent as a tenant, he cannot produce a rent receipt. He does not have a phone either. His application for voterís identity card was rejected thrice because he could not furnish evidence of his residence.

Suresh Ram did not want to forge a residence proof. So he got his employer to sponsor him, verify his identity and certify that he was employed in the house as a cook. He was turned away by a nationalised bank in Khan Market, in which not just his employer but three other members of the same family also had savings bank accounts. The employer personally took up the case but the bank manager pleaded helplessness. Rules had been framed by the RBI and not by him.

An executive in a foreign bank in Greater Kailash was willing to help. But it was pointless because his scrutiny officer would promptly reject the application, he pointed out. How many Suresh Rams are there in Delhi? No one can say with any authority because no census has been carried out of people who spend most of their life on foot paths, in railway stations or under the staircase in large buildings. Most migrants who fled their homes in Uttaranchal or Himachal in search of jobs in Delhi have been living in accommodation let out to them by earlier tenants. And although they practically spend half their salaries on rent, they cannot produce any rent receipt.

They were born in villages where facilities for registration of birth were non-existent till recently. Most of them came without school certificates as it had never occurred to them that they might need it as their birth certificate. It is also practically impossible to get one after so many years. Record-keeping in village schools is poor or non-existent.

Obviously, people like Suresh Ram do not enjoy voting rights. Because they do not exist in government records. They are not entitled to any welfare scheme. They cannot have subsidised food and their children cannot have cheaper education. But no political party, not even those who are Left of the Centre, has bothered to engage their cadres to identify these stateless citizens and ensure that they receive an identity card as proof of their citizenship.

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