CHANGING ITS stand on Aadhaar, the Election Commission (EC) has filed a revised application in the Supreme Court seeking mandatory seeding of the 12-digit unique identity number with all voter cards, The Sunday Express has learnt.
While the poll panel has always supported linking Aadhaar with voter ID cards, its stated position in court earlier was that seeding is completely voluntary. The EC changed its opinion after A K Joti took charge as the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) — he retired on January 23 this year.
The EC is learnt to have justified the shift — from voluntary to mandatory seeding — on the ground that the government has passed the Aadhaar Act, and Aadhaar can also help ensure that each person has only one vote and, thus, prevent voter fraud.
The Aadhaar Act, passed in March 2017 and notified four months later in July, makes Aadhaar seeding mandatory for almost all aspects of life.
The EC had initiated the exercise of linking Aadhaar with the Electors Photo Identity Cards (or EPIC) in February 2015, when H S Brahma was the CEC. On February 27, 2015, it issued guidelines for linking EPIC with Aadhaar as part of the National Electoral Roll Purification and Authentication Programme (NERPAP). The programme was launched on March 3, 2015.
The exercise was suspended later that year, in August, after the Supreme Court restricted the use of Aadhaar to only the Public Distribution System (PDS), LPG and kerosene distribution. However, the poll panel had already linked 38 crore voter cards to Aadhaar by then.
On July 4, 2017, when Nasim Zaidi was the poll panel chief, the EC filed an application in the Supreme Court seeking to resume seeding of Aadhaar with EPIC. But the poll panel clarified in its application that linking was not compulsory. It is also learnt to have stated that no electoral service would be denied to voters on the ground that they had not furnished their Aadhaar number.
However, after Joti succeeded Zaidi as the CEC on July 6 last year, the poll panel changed its position and filed a revised application in the apex court late last year, making a case for mandatory seeding of Aadhaar with EPIC.
When contacted, Joti declined to comment on the matter. Saying that he has retired, he suggested that The Sunday Express should speak to the incumbent CEC.
Joti’s successor, O P Rawat, confirmed the change in the poll panel’s stand. However, he clarified that voters who are already enrolled and eligible but do not have Aadhaar cards will not suffer on account of the change in stand.
All matters pertaining to Aadhaar have been placed before a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court.
Although the EC has supported compulsory seeding of Aadhaar with the voter card, it is not in favour of using the Aadhaar card as EPIC. The poll panel is learnt to have expressed its disapproval of the idea in its response to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice last month.
The parliamentary panel, headed by BJP Rajya Sabha member Bhupender Yadav, had sought the EC’s view on replacing the voter card with the Aadhaar card to remove duplicity. The poll panel, in its response, is learnt to have said that this was not feasible as the voter card and Aadhaar card have been devised to serve different purposes.