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Summary: The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021

The bill introduced in the winter session of Parliament has been met with stiff opposition from lawmakers and activists alike.

The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021 that seeks to link Aadhaar with Voter ID was passed in the Lok Sabha on December 20 and is set to be introduced in the Rajya Sabha on December 21.

Upon introducing the bill in Parliament, the government caused a huge uproar among politicians and civil society who have opposed the proposed legislation on the grounds that it is against the fundamental Right to Privacy and that it will enable surveillance and profiling of voters.

We have summarised the Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, also known as the Amendments to the Representation of the People (RP) Act, 1950 and 1951 here.

Names will not be deleted if Aadhaar is not furnished

Under amendments to Section 23 of the RP Act, 1950, the central government has proposed that the electoral registration officer can require any person to “furnish the Aadhaar number ” as per the provisions of the Aadhaar Act 2016 for ‘establishing the identity of the person’.

These are the other amendments under Section 23 —

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  • Aadhaar may also be required from those already in electoral rolls: The bill said that the electoral registration officer can also ask those whose name is already in the electoral rolls to provide their Aadhaar number “for authentication of entries in electoral roll’, and also to identify if their names are in electoral rolls of more than one constituency; or to identify if his or her name is repeated more than once in the same constituency.
  • Aadhaar details have to be furnished before a certain date: The bill said that those whose names are in the electoral rolls will have to notify their Aadhaar number “on or before a date to be notified by the Central government in the Official Gazette”.
  • Names will not be deleted if Aadhaar details are not furnished: The bill said that neither any application for inclusion of name in the electoral roll will be denied, nor any name be deleted “for inability of any individual to furnish or intimate Aadhhaar number due to such sufficient cause  as may be prescribed.”

Other amendments to RP Act 1950 and 1951 include —

  • Certain statutes have been made gender-neutral: An amendment to section 20 of the RP Act, 1950 and section 60 of the RP Act, 1951 has been proposed for the substitution of the word “wife” with the word “spouse”, making the statutes gender neutral
  • Requisition of premises for voting purposes: An amendment to section 160 of the RP Act, 1951 for enabling the requisition of premises needed for the purpose of being used as polling stations, for counting, etc., has been proposed.

Why the linking of Voter IDs to Aadhaar is being opposed

On the day that the bill was introduced in Lok Sabha, parliamentarians Asaduddin Owaisi and D Ravikumar issued notices seeking to block the bill’s introduction. Owaisi opposed it by claiming that it violates the Right to Privacy as stipulated in the landmark Puttaswamy judgement. He also pointed that a similar exercise that was taken up in a state earlier, had resulted in the mass deletion of voters from the electoral list.

This is what Owaisi had to say —

  • Amendment violates the independence of constitutional process: Owaisi said that voter enrollment and the exercise of issuing voter IDs are done by the Election Commission of India. “Subjecting voter enrollment to Aadhaar violates the independence and sanctity of the constitutional process,” he said.
  • Aadhaar is error-prone: “Studies show that Aadhaar is riddled with more errors than EPIC database. It is unheard of that an error prone and insecure database is used to authenticate a relatively secure and frequently updated database,” Owaisi added.
  • No more secret ballot: “It (Linkage) will end up violating the principles of secret ballot, universal adult franchise and free and fair elections,” he said.

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

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