The Parliament of India Tuesday passed the Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021 for linking electoral roll data and voter identity cards with the government’s digital identity database. The bill authorizes electoral registration officers to demand voters to furnish their unique Aadhaar number for ascertaining their identity and preventing voter fraud.
The bill requires all persons with their names in the electoral rolls to inform the authorities of their Aadhaar number in a manner and form to be prescribed by the central government. The legislature has cited “the menace of multiple enrolments of the same person in different places” as the primary reason for linking electoral rolls with the Aadhaar digital identity ecosystem.
However, politicians in support of the bill also claim it will prevent refugees from neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar from voting in Indian elections. This can create issues since the government itself has acknowledged that an Aadhaar identity card is not proof of citizenship and cannot legally be used to verify the citizenship status of individuals.
A proviso clause states that no application for voter registration shall be denied and no name in the electoral rolls shall be deleted upon the mere inability to provide an Aadhaar number if the individual can furnish other documents. The Minister of Law Kiren Rijiju has defended the bill on these grounds. However, this list of alternate documents is yet to be prescribed by the central government. The experience of creating a citizen register in Assam has sufficiently revealed the discriminatory impact of rigorous documentation requirements on poor and marginalized groups in Indian society.
Civil rights groups are also concerned that the law will violate constitutional safeguards of the right to vote and the right to privacy. In the week before passing of the bill, 14 groups issued a statement asking the government to withdraw the proposal:
Although reports indicate that this proposal is being pushed in the name of ‘reforms,’ and that any linking will be ‘voluntary’ in nature, we are concerned that it will almost certainly lead to mass disenfranchisement, could increase voter fraud, and could violate people’s right to privacy by enabling voter-profiling through the linkage of data sets, as well as impede the guarantee of secrecy of the ballot.
The bill will become law after it is signed by President Ramnath Kovind. The move has drawn significant criticism from opposition party members calling for the repeal of the bill or for its referral to a parliamentary committee for proper scrutiny.