THE Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, which contains provisions for several poll reforms — including the linking of electoral roll data with the Aadhaar ecosystem — was passed by Parliament on Tuesday by voice vote amid a walkout by the Opposition, which had demanded that the legislation be referred to a standing committee. Though there is unanimity among political parties on the need for reforms to ensure free and fair elections, discord prevails over the ways and means. The Union government claims that the Bill will help in weeding out multiple entries in the electoral rolls and ensure that a person is registered as a voter in only one constituency. Law Minister Kiren Rijiju has stated that Aadhaar linkage is ‘voluntary, not compulsory’, even as the Bill specifies that ‘no application for inclusion of name in the electoral rolls shall be denied and no entries deleted for inability of an individual to furnish Aadhaar number due to such sufficient cause as may be prescribed.’ This suggests that the applicant would have to satisfactorily explain to the voter registration officials why he or she is not able to provide Aadhaar details. According to the Bill, such people will be allowed to furnish alternative documents, but it’s likely that the discretion of the officials could have a significant bearing on the processing of their applications.
A project to connect biometric data with voter cards was initiated by the Election Commission in March 2015 with the aim of identifying and removing duplicate and bogus voters. The process was halted in August that year by the Supreme Court, which imposed restrictions on the use of Aadhaar data. In all, the names of around 55 lakh voters in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana were struck off, some of them erroneously. The deletions were reportedly carried out without undertaking the mandatory door-to-door verification.
Database mismatch, possible violation of privacy and other issues which cropped up during the flawed execution of the project need to be addressed to make the new law achieve its purpose. It is also imperative to ensure that the sacrosanct secrecy of the ballot is not compromised.
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