The controversy over missing names from Mumbai’s electoral rolls took a turn on Friday when election commissioner HS Brahma and Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan apologised to voters for the blunder. Their apologies, however, had little effect on the local election officials, who continued to blame voters for not checking whether their names were on the rolls before polling day on Thursday.
EC staff member holds an envelope containing polling material after collecting an electronic voting machine and other election material at a distribution centre on the eve of polls in Mumbai. (AFP photo)
Unconfirmed reports said 200,000 city residents were denied their right to vote because their names were missing or deleted from the rolls. The suburban collector said only 2,000 people could not vote while the city collector did not have any such information. The six seats in Mumbai have an electorate of 9.8 million voters.
Brahma admitted that supervision and verification of revision of electoral rolls was faulty but denied any possibility of re-polling. He, however, gave an assurance that the error would be corrected before the state assembly elections to be held later this year. City officials maintained that they followed a meticulous process to revise the rolls.
Earlier in the day, Chavan too blamed voters, saying, “People check their flight and train ticket status. They could easily have checked the voters' lists.” But he said the government would take up the issue with chief election commissioner VS Sampath.
Political parties started playing a blame game after Brahma and Chavan apologised, with the BJP accusing the Congress-led government of having conspired to delete the names in the city and the rest of the state. The NCP demanded serious action against officials and private companies responsible for updating the electoral rolls.
On Thursday, 19 constituencies in the state, including six in Mumbai, went to the polls. The city registered its highest ever turnout of 51.82% since 1991, prompting political parties to claim that correct electoral rolls would have increased the turnout in the state’s 48 seats.
Other than missing names, voters reported bad behavior by poll officials. Many also complained that photo voter slips were not issued and officials, unaware of the provisions, troubled them by demanding documents such as identity proof despite clear instructions that there was need to produce any such paper. The state’s chief electoral office website didn't work on most occasions and the helplines provided no support either.
State chief electoral officer Nitin Gadre said, “Due procedure was followed in deleting the names of the voters wherever names were repeated or the names of deceased people existed in the previous rolls.” He said the Election Commission would take a final call on complaints about missing names.
Washing his hands of any lapse on the part of the authorities, Mumbai suburban collector Shekhar Channe said people behaved “irresponsibly” by not checking their names before going to the polling booths. “Eligible voters were informed about the updated voters' lists through newspapers and election authority websites,” he said.
Channe could not, however, explain cases in which only a single individual was dropped from the list whereas all others from his or her family were registered as voters. He said his office would investigate specific complaints.
Mumbai city collector Shaila A denied that her office received any complaints of mismanagement at polling booths or names missing from lists.