Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021, introduced by Minister of Law and Justice Kiren Rijiju, was passed in Lok Sabha through voice vote on Monday and will most likely pass in the Rajya Sabha today. The Bill seeks to amend the Representation of People's Act, 1950 and asks to link Aadhaar with the Elector's Photo Identity Card (EPIC), a move that has met criticism throughout the opposition political spectrum, civil societies and NGOs.
The Election Commission has claimed that this will help clean up voter rolls, and that any linkage will be 'voluntary' however, it's being widely claimed that this will lead to mass disenfranchisement and large-scale voter fraud. It is also being said that this will impede with the citizens' right to privacy by enabling voter-profiling through the linkage of data sets that Aadhaar enables to provide.
Here are five key oppositions to the Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021
1. Fears of mass disenfranchisement - An incident of mass disenfranchisement occurred in 2018 when the chief electoral officer of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh linked voter identity cards with Aadhaar data. During the elections, it was found that at least 55 lakh voters had been arbitrarily disenfranchised from the electoral rolls. The government had to roll this decision back.
In addition to that, when Aadhar was challenged in the Supreme Court, it passed an interim order on August 11th, 2015, asking the Election Commission to suspend Aadhaar voter linkage for the government's National Election Roll Purification and Authentication Programme (NERPAP). Since the final judgment and order of the Supreme Court did not allow this, the proposed act could also be in violation of the Supreme Court orders.
2. Increased voter fraud - According to Rethink Aadhaar, self-reported errors in Aadhar data are 1.5 times higher than those in the electoral data records. With reports of fake entries and incorrect details, an Aadhar-Voter ID linkage would undermine the sanctity of the latter.
3. Attack on Right to Privacy - As the current Data Protection Legislation proposed by the government chalks out exemptions for the government from the purview of the same, it is now enabled to misuse the critical information that it gets from the Aadhar - Voter ID linkage. Such a linkage will give the demographic information which has been linked to Aadhaar, being linked to the voter database to the government. The Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed how invasive voter-profiling had on individuals and on democracies and such a law could enable the ruling government to target groups, disenfranchise them based on the better data they get a hold of.
A 2019 investigation revealed that data could have been stolen from the UID database in order to delete voter names in Andhra Pradesh. Abusaleh Shariff, a Sachar committee member researched Karnataka's electoral rolls with others and found that 20% of Muslim adults were missing from electoral lists in the state.
4. Aadhar was never meant to be the proof of citizenship - Aadhaar numbers were issued to all the residents and not just citizens. The same 2015 Supreme Court interim order prohibited the use of Aadhar for any purpose other than the Public Distribution Scheme, cooking oil and LPG distribution scheme. According to the new act, the electoral registration officer may ask for Aadhar cards of people in and out of the electoral roll list. Although it does state that no request for inclusion in the voters' list should be denied because of the 'inability of an individual to furnish or intimate Aadhaar number'.
5. Can anything related to Aadhaar really be voluntary?
Aadhaar was introduced as a voluntary scheme, which was also ordered by the Supreme Court in 2013 but several years down the line, the government mandated many schemes to be availed using Aadhahar Cards. From registering for board examinations to applying for passports, what the government started as a 'voluntary' practice in paper, turned out to be a coercive bureaucratic imposition in practice, over time.
What does the government have to say in the defence of Aadhar - Voter ID linkage?
In his speech in the Lok Sabha, Minister of Law and Justice, Kiren Rijiju, who also introduced the bill said that the government attempts to make a more credible electoral roll and also prevent registration of a person in more than one constituency as highlighted in section 17 of Representation of People's Act. He said that this bill is being presented to prevent 'bogus voting'.
He said the bill fulfills the (threefold) requirements listed out in Justice K. S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) and Anr. vs Union Of India as it passed the test of 'legitimate state aim' and 'Proportionality'.
However, he did not give any reasons in his little over 2-minute speech on how the government believes that the bill presented by them stands in line with the threefold requirements (to impinge privacy) according to the Supreme Court judgment.