Objecting strongly to the Delhi government’s move to collect voter identification details of families of school students, the Election Commission (EC) has ordered the state government to stop the exercise. Calling the EC’s directive “illegal”, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, in a letter to Chief Election Commissioner O P Rawat last week, has refused to oblige and is learnt to have instructed the Directorate of Education (DoE) not to follow the poll panel’s order.
Sisodia did not respond to messages by The Indian Express and Rawat declined to comment on the matter Friday.
Though the EC and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have locked horns on several issues over the last two years, this is the first time when the party, as the executive, has refused to carry out the EC’s directions. The poll watchdog is expected to discuss the defiance of its order in a meeting next week.
In a data collection drive that started in September, the Delhi government had asked all schools, public and private, to compile comprehensive data of all students, their guardians and siblings, with their mobile numbers, voter ID details, and educational qualifications. The exercise, Sisodia had said, was meant to determine how many students enrolled in Delhi’s schools are actually living in Delhi.
A revised circular issued by the Delhi Directorate of Education on October 8 states that the collection process will “facilitate in creating a data bank of students of Delhi to verify the residential address, and its analysis will serve various purposes of the department like short- and long-term planning.”
The move snowballed into a controversy with the Opposition and social organisations criticising it as “breach of privacy”. The matter is now in the Delhi High Court. The EC objected to the exercise once it was brought to its notice through complaints.
The Commission then wrote to the government asking it to withdraw the DoE circular, dated September 11, through which it had first ordered schools to collect data, including voter identification details of students’ parents.
“The Election Commission is the custodian of the voter identification details of all voters. A third party cannot compel people to give up their voter ID numbers. Under law, this can be shared only in hard copy with candidates and political parties at the time of polls. What the Delhi government is doing is not permissible,” said an EC official, on conditions of anonymity.
Calling the EC’s missive “illegal”, Sisodia is learnt to have written to Rawat on November 20 that the Commission does not have the jurisdiction or authority to interfere in the work of DoE, particularly when elections have not been announced in the state.
The Deputy CM has also questioned the EC on why it hasn’t stopped other governments, banks and service providers from seeking Voter ID card details as identification proof.
“Then, as an individual, you are exercising your discretion to part with your data. Voter ID is usually just one of many documents that can be provided as ID proof. We cannot stop a voter from doing that. But no third party can force you to give it up as is being done in the data collection drive by the Delhi government,” said the EC official added.
Sisodia has further said in his letter that it’s not possible for the Delhi government to follow the EC’s orders and that directions have been specially issued to the DoE to ignore the Commission’s directive. If the EC is aggrieved it can approach the court like others have, his letter states.