The investigation of a voter data theft case in Bengaluru has revealed that Chilume Educational Cultural and Rural Development Trust, which was awarded a contract to carry out voter awareness by the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), collected personal information of voters in violation of fundamental rights, a local court in Bengaluru has observed while rejecting an anticipatory bail plea of a Chilume Trust official.
“During the course of investigations, it is revealed that the NGO Chilume has collected the personal information and details of the voters which violates the fundamental right of the person as such the allegation is serious and affects the right of a person who casts his vote,” a sessions court in Bengaluru observed on December 8 while rejecting the bail plea of Kotresh R, the alleged president of the Chilume Trust.
The anticipatory bail pleas of K Srinivas, an IAS officer who was the former deputy commissioner of the Bengaluru Urban district, and BBMP revenue officials Gultaj Fatima and Jyothilakshmi were also rejected by the sessions court on Thursday.
In August this year, the BBMP had awarded a contract to Chilume Trust to carry out voter education initiatives across Bengaluru.
On November 17, the BJP government in Karnataka ordered an investigation into the alleged collection of voter data by fraud, impersonation, and breach of trust by the ‘Chilume Group’ after the Opposition Congress party accused the BJP of being at the centre of efforts to collect data and manipulate voter lists ahead of the 2023 state elections.
The Congress has alleged that the Chilume group was linked to BJP leaders from Bengaluru and that the firm was awarded the voter data collection and awareness work as part of an exercise to manipulate voter lists in Bengaluru through deletions and additions to favour the ruling dispensation.
The BBMP has now registered two FIRs over the alleged fraud and impersonation of booth level officers by workers hired by Chilume for data collection. The police have arrested as many as 10 people in the case so far, including the director of Chilume Enterprises, Ravikumar Krishnappa, three others from the firm, and four BBMP revenue officers.
The police have argued during bail petitions filed by the accused that the allegations against the suspects are serious and “affects the state and nation”.
In the course of his anticipatory bail plea, IAS officer Srinivas argued that he took charge as the deputy commissioner of the Bengaluru Urban district only on June 9, 2022, when the NGO had already begun its voter education activities in the Mahadevapura Assembly constituency, which is currently represented by BJP MLA Arvind Limbavalli.
Srinivas argued that he only exercises the function of an appellate authority of “electoral affairs but as per the dicta of the Election Commission of India”. He argued that he cannot take any decision of his own while implementing the directives of the ECI. The IAS officer was placed under suspension last month on ECI orders.
The police investigation in the case is looking at whether the Chilume Trust collected personal details of voters and secured these details in a digital application that could be sold for commercial benefits for a private enterprise linked to the Chilume Group.
In the course of the anticipatory bail petitions, the Bengaluru police told the court that suspects in the voter data fraud case would not be arrested if they cooperated with the investigation.
The police have indicated that the Chilume Trust could misuse the data. The public prosecutor also argued that government officials had not taken any action after learning about the fraud.
Some of the assistant revenue officers of the BBMP, who are under the police scanner for the alleged fraud, have argued during their bail pleas that they have no power to take any individual steps and were only following the instructions of higher officers in the BBMP.