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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Aadhaar-voter ID linking: Opposition didn’t object last year as part of House panel

Opposition members raised strong objection to the Bill, saying it violates the fundamental right to privacy.

Written by Manoj C G | New Delhi |
Updated: December 22, 2021 8:40:03 am
ParliamentThe Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on Monday. (File photo)

A day after it was pushed through Lok Sabha, the Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which enables the linking of electoral roll data with the Aadhaar ecosystem, cleared Rajya Sabha Tuesday amid acrimonious scenes which ended with the suspension of TMC member Derek O’Brien for the remainder of the winter session after he allegedly threw a rule book.

As in Lok Sabha, the Opposition raised strong objections to the Bill in Rajya Sabha as well. Yet in March 2020, when the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice asked the government to undertake “appropriate actions” for “linking unique Aadhaar Card number with Voter ID Card”, Opposition members in the panel did not raise any red flag.

The committee, in its 101st report on Demands for Grants (2020-2021) of the Ministry of Law and Justice, had said: “The Committee understands that free and fair elections is the bedrock of democracy and the latter is a Basic Feature of the Constitution. An error-free Electoral Roll is sine qua non of free and fair election. The Committee has been advocating linkage of unique Aadhaar ID Card number with voter I-card which would streamline alterations in EPIC during change of ordinary residence by the electors.”

“The incidence of multiple entry could also be eliminated which is required in participative democracy. The Committee, therefore, recommends that the Government may undertake appropriate actions for the purpose of linking unique Aadhaar Card number with Voter ID Card to purify the electoral roll which is in larger interest of democratic polity,” it said.

The committee, then headed by BJP’s Bhupender Yadav, adopted the report at its sitting on March 4, 2020. And among the 25 Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha MPs who attended that meeting were Rajya Sabha members Sukhendu Sekhar Ray (TMC), Vivek Tankha (Congress), Majeed Memon (NCP) and P Wilson (DMK). The report was tabled on March 6.

Reached for comment, Ray said: “I had asked for time to submit my note of dissent which was not allowed and that is why I could not submit my note of dissent.”

Tankha said: “I don’t recollect this part being discussed in my presence before the standing committee. Because if nothing else I would have at least said one thing. In most cases… like in my case…. My name in the electoral roll is in Jabalpur, my hometown. I also live in Delhi. My Aadhaar card would be Delhi… So how are you able to match… I would have asked this question. I really don’t remember it being passed… At least I don’t remember noticing this part.”

Memon said the main issue of electoral reforms which had come up for discussion in the standing committee was on the holding of one election — Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha. “It was discussed for months. Not these reforms. According to me, I have not at least discussed this. I have never opined. I was never asked. I never voted for it.” Wilson could not be contacted.

Asked about this report, Manickam Tagore, Congress member in Lok Sabha, said he did not attend the meeting of the committee on the day the report was adopted.

Incidentally, the Election Commission, after a meeting on August 27, 2018 with all recognised national and state parties on electoral reforms, had issued a press release stating: “Political parties urged the Commission to link Aadhaar numbers with electors’ detail for better electoral management.” Asked about this, Congress member Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who had attended that meeting, said: “It was nothing but a general statement. Nothing concrete was agreed. No legislation format was disclosed. In fact, no minutes were sent to us contemporaneously. Otherwise, we all would have talked of safeguards.”

The issue of linkage of the unique Aadhaar ID card number with the voter I-card also came up for mention in at least three action taken reports of the standing committee later.

The 105th report on action taken on the 101st report of the committee was adopted on September 8 and tabled on September 11 last year. The report stated that the government had informed the committee that the Election Commission had “already sent its proposals on linking of Aadhaar Card Number with the voter Id to purify electoral rolls to the Ministry of Law and Justice” on August 13, 2019. The government informed the committee that the proposal is yet to be approved.

In its 107th report on action taken on the Demands for Grants (2021-22) of the Ministry of Law and Justice, the committee said it “reiterates its recommendation that the Government may undertake appropriate action for the purpose of linking unique Aadhar Card number with Voter I-Card to purify the electoral roll.” This report was adopted on March 15 earlier this year and tabled in Parliament a day later.

The 109th report on action taken on 107th report of the Committee on Demands for Grants (2021-22) pertaining to the Ministry of Law and Justice was tabled in this session itself. It was adopted on December 8 and tabled on December 10.

The report said the government had informed the committee that the Election Commission proposal to link the electoral roll with the Aadhaar ecosystem to curb “the menace of multiple enrolment of the same person at different places” would require amendments in elections laws. “The matter is under consideration of the Government,” it said.

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