Linking voter ID data with Aadhaar will disenfranchise lakhs in country, warn MPs and digital rights activists

Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram Shashi Tharoor argued that Aadhaar was only proof of residence and only citizens could vote, but now ‘residents will also be allowed to vote’

Representational image
Representational image

Ashlin Mathew

The Lok Sabha on Monday passed the Election Laws Amendment Bill 2021 to link voter ID list, or rather the electoral roll data, with Aadhaar card without putting up the Bill for public consultation as is required on laws with far reaching consequences. It was done on the basis of a recommendation from the Election Commission.

The linking, though not yet mandatory, has been done under the guise of deleting ‘a huge number of duplicate voters’. The Bill has been passed without a Personal Data Protection Law being in place and the linking of Aadhaar with the electoral roll data will lead to large scale disenfranchisement and targeted deletion of certain sections of the population from the list, experts said.

Even as the Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju moved the motion to pass the Bill, Congress MP Manish Tewari said that such a law was detrimental to democracy. “Aadhaar Act doesn’t allow the linking of the two databases. Voting is a legal right and Aadhaar can only be used for welfare schemes,” explained Tewari.

The Leader of the Congress party in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury opposed the introduction of the Bill stating that it would lead to massive disenfranchisement. He referred to the Justice KS Puttaswamy vs Union of India judgement and demanded that it be sent to the Standing Committee.

Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor argued that Aadhaar was only proof of residence and only citizens could vote, but now ‘residents will also be allowed to vote’.

AIMIM MP Asaduddin Owaidi underscored that the Bill violated the right to privacy and the independent sanctity of the election process. He wanted the division of votes after the introduction of the Bill, but the Chair did not agree to his demand.

“Aadhaar is not proof of citizenship. The Central government is interfering with the Election Commission,” said professor Saugata Roy of the Trinamool Congress.

Incidentally, the Election Commission had attempted to link the cards in 2015 but it had been stayed by the Supreme Court while examining the validity of Aadhaar in the Justice KS Puttaswamy judgement as it could lead to exclusion.

As a result of the linking of Aadhaar to the voter ID list, close to 55 lakh names were deleted from the voter database of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

Digital rights activists have decried the Bill, pointing out that there haven't been enough discussions on it. “A Bill as important as this needs to have broader discussions, not just in Parliament, but with citizens, whose rights are at stake,” said Prasanth Sugathan of Software Freedom Law Centre.

“All the experiments of Aadhaar and voter ID database linking in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have resulted in excessive disenfranchisement of voters. This Bill is actively going to create a class of voters who will be unable to vote across India,” said Srinivas Kodali, a digital rights activist.

All the Aadhaar-voter ID data will be interlinked to create profiles of voters. In Andhra Pradesh, there were allegations that some of this data has in the past been given to the Telugu Desam Party in 2019. A probe has been launched by Unique Identification Authority of India, Election Commission of India and Cyberabad police into a privacy breach and misuse of data of 3.7 crore voters of Andhra radish based on a complaint filed by YSR Congress MP V Vijaysai Reddy.

Reddy alleged that government data from a Smart Pulse Survey which was linked to State Resident Data Hub (SRDH) and contained demographic data of Aadhaar and electoral rolls prepared by the ECI were misused.

“Voting is the basis of democracy. If you are going to take away the electoral rights of people, just because of an issue with Aadhaar or biometrics or duplication, it is our democracy at stake. People should have been given time to respond to this,” stressed Sugathan.

This won’t stop here, said Kodali, as for BJP it is all about ‘one nation, one election’ and Aadhaar will be the basis for online voting. “Now, Aadhaar linking has been made voluntary; it will soon be mandatory. And if your biometrics don’t match you will not be able to vote,” explained Kodali.

Biometric voting has happened in Estonia and Kenya. In 2017, Kenya had introduced biometrics-based voting and this resulted in the elections being called off by the Supreme Court of Kenya.

Currently, many socially backward and vulnerable families continue to be denied their ration due to Aadhaar connectivity failure. In several of these cases, the biometrics did not match and there have been more than 350 instances of starvation deaths resulting from it.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court had observed that the cancellation of three crore ration cards across the country for not being linked with Aadhaar was a serious issue. In February 2017, the Prime Minister praised the cancellation of 3.95 crore “fake” ration cards with the help of Aadhaar. However, this claim has been disputed by RTI responses.

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