Linking of Aadhaar with Voter ID’s: Everything You Need to Know

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This article deals with the recent Election Laws Amendment Bill 2021[1] which aims at linking Aadhar with the Voter Ids of the voters.

Before that, I would like to highlight the Elections and voting rights in our country.

One of the most important decisions taken by the Constituent Assembly of India was that of ensuring Universal Adult Suffrage, under which every adult citizen (initially it was 21 years of age but later on changed to 18 years by 61st Amendment Act, 1988[2]) of the country was given Right to Vote without any kind of discrimination so that each citizen can participate in the election procedure of the country. As the country already had experienced a lot of problems before the Independence, people were discriminated against based on their religion, caste, whether they were rich or not, if they had any property, educational status, and other factors before granting them voting rights. So, the idea of giving the right of voting to every adult thus proved to be a strengthening idea for the Democracy of India.

The Right to Vote is enshrined in Article 326 of the Indian Constitution[3] which says “Elections to the House of the People and to the Legislative Assemblies of States to be based on adult suffrage; but is to say, every person who is a citizen of India and who is not less than eighteen years of age on such date as may be fixed in that behalf by or under any law made by the appropriate legislature and is not otherwise disqualified under this constitution or any law made by the appropriate Legislature on the ground of non-residence, unsoundness of mind, crime or corrupt or illegal practice, shall be entitled to be registered as a voter at any such election”.

Free and fair elections are therefore the most crucial part of a healthy democracy, so any election-related reform might have a direct impact on the country’s democracy.

How a person is granted voter ID?

The Representation of People’s Act 1950[4] provides for the provision of granting voter ID to a person. A person can apply to the Electoral Registration Officer for inclusion of his/her name in the electoral roll of a constituency. After the registration, if the officer feels satisfied with the verification of the applicant, then he may direct the name of the applicant to be included in the electoral roll database. This way a person can get enrolled in the voter list of his/her particular constituency.

The Election Laws Amendment (Bill) 2021

On 20th December 2021, in the winter session of the parliament, the government of India introduced the Election Laws Amendment Bill 2021, which seeks to amend the Representation of the People Act, 1950 and the Representation of the People Act, 1951[5].

The Bill was passed from Lok Sabha on the same date as of introduction and was then passed by the Rajya Sabha on the very next day i.e., on 21st December 2021. However, it is yet to get the assent of the President.

Also, this hasty approval of the Bill from the Lok Sabha was criticized by various opposition parties but the law minister Kiren Rijiju claimed that this bill is a significant electoral reform, and a parliamentary standing committee has already endorsed the linking of voter’s ID with Aadhaar number.

Why the Bill was Introduced?

The bill was introduced as a result of a proposal sent by the Election Commission in 2019 to the government to amend the electoral laws of the country and allow it to gain access to the Aadhaar data of the voters enrolled for the establishment of their identity and also to use it to register new voters. The aim of the Election Commission was to track down the voters having their names in multiple constituencies or more than once in the same constituency, as well as to clean up the electoral roll database so that it can help prevent voting frauds in the country.

Key Amendments to the Bill –

The Bill was introduced to implement the following electoral reforms in the country:

  • It aims at linking of Electoral Roll (EPIC- Electoral Photo Identity Card) database with Aadhaar number, so as to identify and remove the duplicate voters in the country. The Bill also adds that if a person approaches the Registration officer to get enrolled in electoral roll. The registration officer may ask the Aadhaar number to establish the identity of that person. Furthermore, the people who are already enrolled in the electoral roll, the officer can also ask them their Aadhaar number for authenticating their data.
  • The bill also amends section 14 of Representation of People Act 1950, to change the qualifying date for enrolment in electoral roll. Earlier a voter who has been turned 18 years (i.e., Eligible to vote) as of 1st January was only able to get enrolled in the electoral roll but with the new amendment, there will be four qualifying dates in a year i.e., 1st January, 1st April, 1st July and 1st October.
  • The Bill also amends the Section 20 of the RP Act, 1950 and Section 60 of the RP Act, 1951 and seeks to change the laws to be gender neutral. Earlier the ‘wife’ of army man was able to caste vote on his behalf but there was no such provision for women army officers. So, the latest law replaces the term ‘wife’ with ‘spouse’.
  • As the Representation of People’s Act 1951 permits state governments to use certain properties for conducting elections and storing of ballot boxes. The new law amends this provision to expand the use of such properties for counting purposes, storage of EVM’s and accommodation of security personnel.

Is the linkage Mandatory?

It has been mentioned in Section 23(6) of the Election Laws Amendment Bill that the linkage of Aadhaar will be voluntary for the voters and if a person due to ‘sufficient cause’ is unable to furnish Aadhaar number then the person will neither be denied inclusion of his/her name in the electoral roll nor the existing data will be deleted and the officer may ask for alternate documents from that person.

However, the term ‘Sufficient Cause’ is not clear and the rules for it will may be prescribed by the central government later on.

Previous experiences

The process of linking Aadhaar with voter cards is not at all new and was applied for the first time in 2015 when the Election Commission of India (ECI) launched a pilot program The National Electoral Roll Purification and Authentication Programme (NERPAP) “with the prime objective of bringing a totally error-free and authenticated electoral roll” and one of its main objectives was to link the electoral database with Aadhaar database.

There are various claims by activists that in Andhra Pradesh only, names of around 55 Lakh voters were eliminated arbitrarily from the voter list during this drive. However, Supreme Court later on passed an order to stop the usage of Aadhaar for purposes other than the state-facilitated food distribution schemes.

A similar type of linking of Aadhaar was seen in 2018, when names of nearly 2 million voters were deleted from Telangana voter rolls and people were deprived of their Right to vote.

How the bill will be beneficial for the Public

As we know there exist multiple enrolments of the same voter in different constituencies due to change of address of the voters and non-elimination of previous records. So, with the introduction of new laws, the problem of duplicate voters will be thus eliminated as after the process of linkage is done and then if a person approaches the registration officer for its enrolment in a particular constituency and its data is already there in the Electoral roll database the system will send an alert to the officer and thus will help in elimination of previous records of that person.

Also, the process of Aadhaar linking will help prevent bogus voting and voter frauds. It will also help in improving the Electoral Roll database along with the fair and easy new enrolments of voters.

Furthermore, the change of laws for army officers as gender neutral will now help both the husband and wife who are army officers, as now it will become easy for them to cast the vote on behalf of their spouse.

The government also claims that it will help at tracking of migrant workers of the country which are about 300 million in numbers and so that they can improve their accessibility to voting and thus will be able to cast their votes easily from their homes.

Concerns With the Bill

Though there are various benefits of this new law yet there are various concerns have been raised by experts regarding the linking of Aadhaar data with voter Ids.

One of the biggest disadvantages has been talked about this law is that, the UIDAI itself had told in various courts of the country that the “Aadhaar is neither a birth certificate and nor a citizenship guarantee to any person”, which was also backed by various government ministers too, then how can we link the Aadhaar number with Voter ID (EPIC database) which is only available to the Indian Citizens as per the Article 326 of the Indian Constitution. There were also various incidences had been occurred where foreigners were caught with their fake Aadhaar cards. One such incident was seen in Bengaluru in 2018 when a Bangladeshi national was arrested with fake Aadhaar and other fabricated documents which he claimed he had procured from an agent in Bengaluru. Thus, if this linking is done as proposed without addressing these concerns, then it may result in the casting of vote in an election by a non-Indian citizen, which will be against our constitutional spirit and our democratic values.  

Also, there are various claims that, just like previous linking experiences in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana which had resulted in deletion of names of lakhs of people, then allowing this process in the whole country might result in elimination of names of crores of people from the electoral roll database, and in this way, many will be deprived of their voting rights.

There are also some views that though initially it is voluntary for the people to produce their Aadhaar number for verification it can get involuntary in the future as the term ‘sufficient cause’ is not clearly defined in the bill. Also, we have seen previously that initially having Aadhaar was voluntary for people but nowadays it is nearly compulsory for everyone to hold an Aadhaar card.

Furthermore, as per our Constitution, the Election Commission should be an autonomous body with no involvement of the Government in its functioning. However, as per the Aadhaar Act 2016[6], the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) is a statutory body under government regulations. Then if this process of linking of both the databases is done there may be chances that the government in power can seek the data of the voters from Aadhaar easily and thus the possibility of voter profiling arises by the governments and this way they can target a particular group or community and will easily be able to manipulate the voters. As we have witnessed this type of scenario in 2019, the Cambridge Analytica scandal, highlighted the devastating effects of thorough and invasive voter-profiling on individuals and democracies.

There are also some proofs of leakage of Aadhaar data of nearly 7.8 crores of Indians during the election in 2019 in Andhra Pradesh & Telangana. It was alleged by various reports that the leaked data was collected by a private company that was secretly connected to a particular political party.

Also, there are various concerns have been raised about the individual’s privacy rights as presently there are no Data Protection Laws in the country and the Privacy is only governed by the Information and Technology Act,2000. So, there may be chances of the data misuse by the government agencies or any other group or party if the particular data of an individual gets leaked.

Concerns with Aadhaar Database

There are also few concerns specifically have been raised over the authenticity of the data stored in the Aadhaar Database. In 2020 itself it was particularly reported by the UIDAI that around 40000 fake Aadhaar cards were cancelled by it. Furthermore, there is no indication that the data kept has been verified, as the Aadhaar data was never checked by any independent authority.

The Aadhaar database has widespread data quality flaws as a result of poor enrolment methods and a lack of efficient correction processes mechanism by UIDAI, which have been well documented in various reports. Thus, the sanctity of records in the voter ID database would be harmed as a result of this exercise in an actually major way.

Conclusion

In last as a conclusion, I would like to say that to prevent voting frauds and cleaning up the Electoral Roll database in India if the Aadhaar is to be linked with Voter ID’s then it’s a good decision by the government but before its implementation government should talk to different stakeholders to discuss its proper implementation. Also, government should talk to different peer groups along with marginal societies and make sure to satisfy them on their concerns regarding the Act, and also explain them the benefits of this process of linkage that how this will help in prevention of voting frauds in elections.

It should also make sure that the people who are currently not holding Aadhaar cards with them are not deprived from their voting rights and rather they should basically provide a proper alternative methods for their enrolments.

Government should also examine the issue of data privacy and must first bring the proper ‘Data Protection’ laws in the country so that we can prevent misuse of data and thus, large number of people can come forward voluntary for their Aadhaar-Voting ID linking easily without having any fear of breach of their private information. This will also prevent the problem of targeted human profiling which is also a major concern here.

This Act though have various concerns but if addressed carefully by the government then it can have a great impact in the elections of our country and will thus solve major problem of voting frauds in the country.

References

  1. Election Laws (Amendment) Act, 2021.
  2. The Constitution of India, 1950.
  3. The Constitution (Sixty-first Amendment) Act, 1988.
  4. The Representation of People’s Act 1950.
  5. The Representation of People’s Act 1951.
  6. Why linking Aadhaar with voter ID is a dangerous idea, India, available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/linking-aadhaar-card-voter-id-7399406/ (Visited on Jan 07, 2022).
  7. Opinion | Linking of Aadhar with voter ID will eliminate bogus voting, India, available at: https://www.indiatvnews.com/news/india/linking-of-aadhar-with-voter-id-will-eliminate-bogus-voting-aaj-ki-baat-rajat-sharma-blog-opinion-750520 (Visited on Jan 09, 2022).
  8. Don’t link Aadhaar & voter ID, India, available at: https://www.financialexpress.com/opinion/dont-link-aadhaar-voter-id/2397366/ (Visited on Jan 09, 2022).
  9. Linking of electoral data with Aadhaar: All you need to know, India, available at: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/linking-of-electoral-data-with-aadhaar-all-you-need-to-know/articleshow/88408171.cms (Visited on Jan 10, 2022).
  10. Aadhaar linkage can sink India’s electoral democracy – with voter profiling, selective exclusion, India, available at: https://theprint.in/opinion/aadhaar-linkage-can-sink-indias-electoral-democracy-with-voter-profiling-selective-exclusion/786812/ (Visited on Jan 10, 2022).
  11. Linking Voter ID to Aadhaar: A selectively picked ‘reform’, India, available at: https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/comment/linking-voter-id-to-aadhaar-a-selectively-picked-reform-1064326.html (Visited on Jan 13, 2022).
  12. Election Laws (Amendment) Bill,2021 passed by Lok Sabha explained in 10 points, India, available at: https://www.livemint.com/news/india/election-laws-amendment-bill-2021-passed-by-lok-sabha-explained-in-10-points-11640067265592.html (Visited on Jan 14, 2022).
  13. The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021, India, available at: https://prsindia.org/billtrack/the-election-laws-amendment-bill-2021 (Visited on Jan 07, 2022).
  14. EXPLAINED: Why Election Commission Wants To Link Voter IDs To Aadhaar Card And What It Means, India, available at: https://www.news18.com/news/explainers/explained-why-election-commission-wants-to-link-voter-ids-to-aadhaar-card-and-what-it-means-4560152.html (Visited on Jan 07, 2022).
  15. Explainer: Why the move to link Aadhaar to voter ID cards is so contentious, India, available at: https://scroll.in/article/1013078/explainer-why-linking-aadhaar-to-voter-id-cards-could-prove-to-be-problematic (Visited on Jan 15, 2022).

[1] Election Laws (Amendment) Act, 2021

[2] The Constitution (Sixty-first Amendment) Act, 1988

[3] The Constitution of India, 1950

[4] The Representation of People’s Act 1950

[5] The Representation of People’s Act 1951

[6] The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016

Author: Naman Yadav, Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow

Editor: Kanishka VaishSenior Editor, LexLife India

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