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Friday, January 21, 2022

Linking electoral roll to Aadhaar: Opposition objects, govt pushes bill through

The Bill was passed via voice vote while several Opposition members stood in the Well of the House, raising slogans.

Written by Liz Mathew , Harikishan Sharma , Anisha Dutta | New Delhi |
December 21, 2021 3:48:06 am
Law Minister Kiren Rijiju

The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021 that seeks to link electoral roll data with the Aadhaar ecosystem was passed by Lok Sabha Monday amid protests by Opposition members who raised strong objection to the Bill, saying it violates the fundamental right to privacy.

The Bill was passed via voice vote while several Opposition members stood in the Well of the House, raising slogans.

Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju, who introduced the Bill, said, “There is also a provision to link Aadhaar with the voter ID card. It is voluntary. It is not compulsory or mandatory.” Slamming the Opposition parties, he said they have “either not read the Bill or they are opposing deliberately”.

Rejecting the Opposition demand for sending the Bill to the standing committee, Rijiju quoted the 105th report of the Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personal, Public Grievances and Law and Justice.

“The committee is of the view that linking Aadhaar with electoral rolls will purify electoral rolls and will consequently reduce electoral malpractices. Accordingly, the committee has directed that the relevant law in this regard should be amended at the earliest and action taken is required to be forwarded to the committee,” he said.

He said the Bill was brought to comply with the Supreme Court judgment which had suggested laws to define permissible invasion of privacy.

“The present legal provisions have some disparity and some shortcomings, and to remove the same, the government, in consultation with the Election Commission and incorporating recommendations made by the Election Commission, we have brought these amendments,” Rijiju said, detailing the proposed amendments to various sections of The Representation of the People Act, 1951.

In 2015, the move to link voter ID to Aadhaar was put on the backburner after the Supreme Court made it clear that “the Aadhaar card Scheme is purely voluntary and it cannot be made mandatory till the matter is finally decided by this Court one way or the other”.

Opposing the Bill at the introduction stage itself, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said: “I do oppose the introduction of the Bill under The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021 and simultaneously demand that the legislative document should be referred to the standing committee concerned for further scrutiny given the fact that this is an infringement on the fundamental right to privacy as enunciated by the Supreme Court.”

Claiming “it will lead to mass disenfranchisement” and “that’s why we are demanding that this Bill should be referred to the standing committee,” Chowdhury said that the data protection law is still not in place.

Rijiju rejected the Opposition argument that linking voter identity to Aadhaar would violate the fundamental rights of a citizen. He said the amendment Bill is to stop bogus voting and fraudulent votes. He maintained that Opposition MPs had misinterpreted the Supreme Court judgment.

According to the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill, it provides for amendment of section 23 of the RP Act, 1950, enabling the linking of electoral roll data with the Aadhaar ecosystem to curb the menace of multiple enrolment of the same person in different places. It also seeks to amend clause (b) of section 14 of the RP Act, 1950 specifying the 1st day of January, 1st day of April, 1st day of July and 1st day of October in a calendar year as qualifying dates in relation to the preparation or revision of electoral rolls.

Opposing the Bill, Manish Tewari of Congress said: “The linking of voter IDs and Aadhaar violates the fundamental right to privacy as defined by the Supreme Court in the judgment.”

AIMIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi said if the Bill becomes an Act, the government would be able to use voter identity details for “disenfranchising some people and profile the citizens”.

“This Bill is outside the legislative competence of this House and violates the limits on legislation set by the Supreme Court in Puttaswamy (case). The linking of voter ID with Aadhaar violates the fundamental right to privacy defined in Puttaswamy (case),” Owaisi said, demanding division on the leave to introduce the Bill in the House.

TMC member Sougata Roy also opposed the introduction of the Bill and said it is against the Supreme Court judgment in Puttaswamy case. “Besides, the Central government is interfering with the Election Commission,” he said, referring to a letter that sought the presence of the Chief Election Commissioner at a meeting chaired by the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister.

RSP member N K Premachandran pointed out that right to privacy is a fundamental right of citizens and Parliament cannot pass a law to curtail that. Shashi Tharoor of the Congress said: “Aadhaar was only meant to be proof of residence. It is not proof of citizenship. In our country, only citizens are allowed to vote.”

BJP member Nishikant Dubey alleged that the Congress wanted to derail serious reforms brought by the government. “If we are linking Aadhaar with electoral rolls, what injustice are we committing?” he said, alleging that Congress and TMC were doing vote bank politics and, therefore, opposing the Bill.

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