The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill 2021 seeking to link Aadhaar number with voter ID was passed in the Lok Sabha on Monday amid furore as the opposition raised issues of privacy and voiced fears that it could be used to disenfranchise voters.
Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju introduced the Amendment to the Representation of the People Act, 1950 and the Representation of the People Act, 1951 in the lower house even as several opposition parties opposed the introduction of the bill and demands were made that it be sent to the parliamentary standing committee for scrutiny.
In the face of the opposition protests, the government brought out a supplementary list of business in the Lok Sabha, listing the bill for consideration and passing. It was eventually passed amid din in the lower house, with opposition parties criticising the government for rushing the bill through despite the strong reservations expressed by them about the legislation.
The bill seeks to allow electoral registration officers to seek the Aadhaar number of people who want to register as voters for the purpose of establishing the identity.
The bill also proposed that the electoral registration officers can ask for Aadhaar numbers from persons already included in the electoral roll for the purposes of authentication of entries in the electoral roll, and to identify registration of the name of the same person in the electoral roll of more than one constituency or more than once in the same constituency.
As per the bill, no application for inclusion of name in the electoral roll shall be denied and no entries in the electoral roll shall be deleted for the inability of an individual to furnish or intimate Aadhaar number due to such sufficient cause as may be prescribed. People who cannot provide Aadhaar details will be allowed to furnish other alternative documents as may be prescribed.
The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the bill states that Section 23 of the RP Act, 1950 is being amended to allow linking of electoral roll data with the Aadhaar ecosystem to curb the menace of multiple enrolments of the same person in different places.
The bill ran into vociferous protests from the opposition, with questions being raised about whether the amendment pertaining to Aadhaar linkage ran counter to the Supreme Court's judgment in the privacy matter, and if it could lead to disenfranchisement of voters.
Congress' Leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury opposed the introduction of the bill and demanded that it be sent to the standing committee. He said the bill was not legally sound as it ran contrary to the Supreme Court's judgment in the Puttuswamy case, which is popularly known as the privacy judgment. He also raised concerns about data security and pointed out that the country still does not have a data protection law.
Trinamool Congress' Saugata Roy said the bill was flawed since Aadhaar is not a proof of citizenship. He also raised the issue of the government allegedly interfering with the functioning of the Election Commission and referred to reports of the Prime Minister's Office sending letters to the poll panel.
AIMIM's Asaduddin Owaisi said the bill violates the limits set by the Supreme Court in its privacy judgment. “The amendment violates the right to privacy. It violates the independent sanctity of the election process. It will allow the government to disenfranchise voters and it violates the principle of secret ballot,” he said.
BSP legislator Ritesh Pandey expressed the fear that the amendment could result in disenfranchisement of the oppressed sections of the society.
Responding to the arguments put forth by the opposition, Rijiu said the fears expressed by them were baseless. He said they had indulged in misinterpretation of the Supreme Court's judgment in the privacy matter.
“The Representation of People's Act directs the government to ensure that the voter roll is credible so that the election is credible. Bogus voting should stop,” Rijiju said. He said the bill passed the criteria of having a legitimate aim as also the proportionality test.
He said the bill was in the interest of voters and its aim was to ensure clean elections.
The Election Commission had proposed that the electoral roll be linked with the Aadhaar ecosystem to curb the menace of multiple enrolment of the same person at different places. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice in its 101st report, had also endorsed this view.