A forced consent to complyAadhaar linking with Voter ID should be made optional or scrap the whole process

    30-Aug-2022
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HanDi Grace
In pursuance of The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill 2021, the ECI has intensified the drive to link Aadhaar number with Voter ID in Manipur as well. However, this move has created more questions than solutions.
To begin with, the authorities have maintained that this process would be voluntary which is just a facade in final analysis. For all intents and purposes, the said effort is nothing but a manufactured consent to comply. We are given almost no other option(s) for the fact that it is voluntary only if we have not been issued an Aadhaar number. In other words, if we have an Aadhaar number we must mandatorily furnish it with our Voter ID. However, it may be pointed out that it is not the fault of the BLOs as they are just carrying out the orders from higher echelons.
Why The Drive?
Then we may ask why the authorities have taken up this coercive initiative? Some basic reasons behind the campaign is to
1) establish the identity of electors;
2) authenticate entries in the electoral rolls
3) curb multiple registrations of duplicate names of the same persons in one or more Constituencies.
It basically aims to clean up the ailing electoral system in India.
Common Apprehensions
Nevertheless, mandating verification of EPIC by Aadhaar is not the best electoral reform for the number of issues at hand which include
1. We must verify Voter ID with Aadhaar number or face arbitrary deletion as shown in Telengana and Andhra Pradesh recently.
2. The deadline to complete the linking of the two documents is 2023. Yet nothing is said about the consequences thereafter if Aadhaar is not registered with EPIC. Only time will tell whether non-Aadhaar verified voters can cast their votes.
3. Aadhaar is not a proof of citizenship and is issued to "resident(s), thus this verification is not a foolproof process.
4. The Internet Freedom Foundation points out that self reported errors in the Aadhaar database are higher than those in the electoral database. So, it does not guarantee a much better electoral roll but only compounds more errors.
5. It can lead to misuse by various agencies by profiling voters' informations for business and other exploitations. Absence of data protection law (which was withdrawn recently) heightens the risk of this possibility.
Main Concerns: Against our basic democratic rights
The core concern is that it violates the most basic rights of the citizens of India. Aadhaar contains personal biometric information and as such forcing it to link it with EPIC is a violation of fundamental right to privacy under article 21 of the constitution. Moreover, the right to vote is a constitutional right under article 326 which should not be denied just for failing to verify a Voter ID with Aadhaar (which again is not proof of citizenship in the first place). Voting right is the most basic political right in democratic countries without which democracy is a farce. India is a successful democracy precisely because its electoral system is simple, flexible and voluntary for common people to exercise their rights.
Way Forward
Any arbitrary actions of the government, however well-intentioned, should be made answerable to the people. At the very least the said drive should be scrutinised under judicial review. Until then the following course of actions may be pursued:
1. Put on hold to the Aadhaar verification process
2. Withdraw the law and the campaign in public interest
3. Make use of the prescribed 11 documents which are in no way less authentic than Aadhaar.
4. If it should go ahead it must meet the test of legality, necessity and proportionality as laid by the Supreme Court of India. In this case only the first criteria is met, even that is questionable given the Bill was passed by voice vote in Lok Sabha without referring to the Parliamentary Standing Committee for detailed examinations.
At any rate there should not have been a compulsion. It is advisable to keep the verification process simple as it is today. Linking the two documents as argued above does not make it any simpler and transparent. Instead it opens the door for abuse and manipulation which shall find no place in democracy. The voluntary tag with suffix "sufficient cause prescribed" clause is a euphemism for coerced compliance.
The writer is a concerned citizen and civil services aspirant.