On August 18, 2022, a Booth Level Officer (‘BLO’) called an IFF Staffer, directing them to give their Aadhaar Number or face deletion from the electoral roll. On digging deeper, the BLO provided the IFF Staffer with a letter that we brought to light in the interest of public awareness and transparency. The letter refers to a previous letter dated August 16, 2022 that instructed BLOs to start house-to-house visits for ‘voluntary’ collection of Aadhaar details. In response to this, a clarification was issued from the official twitter handle of the Chief Electoral Officer, Haryana, (as well as from the Election Commission of India’s twitter handle for Voter Awareness) stating that the submission of Aadhar number is “voluntary” and that its non-submission won’t lead to and is not a ground for deletion of entry in the electoral roll. However, our Staffer’s experience reveals otherwise. The on ground implementation and practice, which goes against what is stated in the letter, makes Aadhaar based authentication de-facto mandatory in nature. This incident has amplified our concerns around the harms and negative implications the mandatory linking of Aadhaar with voter databases may have on voter rights.
What is the background?
This incident occurred approximately a month after the Ministry of Law and Justice notified the Registration of Electors (Amendment) Rules, 2022 (“Rules”). The Representation of the People Act, 1950 (“Act”) and Election Laws (Amendment) Act, 2021 (“Amendment”) permits electoral registration officers to demand Aadhaar numbers of identified voters. The Amendment went into force from August 01, 2022, post which several state CEOs have initiated efforts to encourage voters to link their Aadhaar number. Similar efforts to link Aadhaar were witnessed in Madurai.
What did we do about it?
Failure to ensure strict adherence to the rules and laws put in place may disenfranchise lakhs of eligible voters and affect their right to privacy. Thus, we wrote to the CEO, Haryana, firstly expressing our appreciation for his timely response on this urgent matter. We requested that his clarification of Aadhaar linking not being mandatory be conveyed, in letter and spirit, to all Booth Level Officers under his office. Additionally, given that awareness campaigns aimed at informing and educating the voters about the new provision to link the voter ID with Aadhaar have started across the country, we urged the CEO to prominently highlight the voluntary nature of this exercise in any such campaigns.