Election Commission

Hidden agenda in voter ID verification?

Print edition : October 25, 2019

Inauguration of the electoral verification programme at the Collector camp office in Vijayawada on September1. Photo: CH. VIJAYA BHASKAR

THE Election Commission (E.C.) launched, on September 1, a nationwide electoral verification programme (EVP) that will continue until October 15. Voters have been asked to get their voter IDs verified by local E.C. representatives to avoid invalidation of the cards, either through an online process or offline by submitting their Aadhaar details. There is a list of documents that can be used for verification, such as driving licence, passport and bank pass book as well as Aadhaar. But the message given out to individual voters by their local E.C. representatives is that the exercise is being carried out to link voter IDs with Aadhaar numbers.

“If you fail to get your voter ID cards verified with the Aadhaar number during this period, it will become invalidated,” says a message from a Booth Level Officer (BLO). This writer, too, received such a message.

Why is the E.C. bent on linking voter ID cards with Aadhaar numbers? A similar exercise launched in March 2015 had to be dropped in August that year when a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court ruled that Aadhaar number could only be used for accessing welfare services such as subsidised ration from the public distribution system, kerosene and LPG. Even more disconcertingly, the exercise appears surreptitious, using the guise of a verification programme.

The E.C. is once again going about the task without the necessary legislative mandate, as it did in 2015. As reported in Frontline (“Aadhaar concerns”, September 27, 2019), the E.C. wrote to the Union Law Ministry on August 13 seeking its views. A senior E.C. official had told Frontline then: “The matter relates to the Representation of the People Act, and if any change is to be made, it will have to go through the parliamentary process.” The E.C. officials confirmed to Frontline that the Union Law Ministry was yet to revert on this issue.

Then why is the E.C. going ahead with the linking process? A senior E.C. official, who headed the aborted process in 2015, said the E.C. had not yet formally authorised any such linking process. “The communication from the BLOs is apparently not as per any instruction of the E.C.,” the official said.

Yet, the exercise is under way and crores of unsuspecting voters have had their data linked with the voter ID, not realising that the government is yet to take a final decision on this and that the parliamentary process is yet to be completed. The lack of transparency in the process makes the government’s motives suspect. The modus operandi is reminiscent of the exercise in 2015, which was abruptly called off after data of 32 crore voters were linked with Aadhaar numbers. In the ensuing confusion, names of 28 lakh voters in Telangana got deleted, which only came to light when the State went to polls in 2018. This was grudgingly admitted by the E.C. in a right to information (RTI) reply.

It is all meant to weed out bogus/fake voters, E.C. officials claim. But the security of citizens’ data and privacy issues are a matter of concern. Not a single agency in India has yet done any study on how safe the data are once they are linked to the Aadhaar number. Neither the government nor the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) would have any control over the usage of this data, which remain strictly under the jurisdiction of the foreign agency that collects the data.

The rush to link all data with Aadhaar, including the ongoing attempt to link even social media accounts, is bizarre, especially in the light of the 2017 Supreme Court ruling that privacy was a citizen’s fundamental right as it was inherent to the right to life and liberty.

Linking voter IDs with Aadhaar is fraught with dangers. RTI replies have revealed that 80 million fake or fraudulent Aadhaar numbers were detected in 2014-15. RTI queries have also shown that manipulation of data is a strong possibility, and this might expose the country’s electoral system to outside manipulation.