Bill on electoral reforms cleared, Oppn protests
- A motion by opposition parties to send the draft legislation to a parliamentary select committee was defeated by a voice vote.
The Rajya Sabha on Tuesday approved a proposed law that allows election officials to ask registered voters for Aadhaar details, despite protests and a walkout by the opposition, which said the controversial draft legislation infringed on a voter’s right to privacy.
The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which proposes linking electoral rolls to the Aadhaar database on a voluntary basis and makes the language of India’s election law gender-neutral, was passed by the upper house by a voice vote. It was cleared by the Lok Sabha on Monday and now awaits the President’s consent to pass into law.
A motion by opposition parties to send the draft legislation to a parliamentary select committee was defeated by a voice vote.
The bill was “very good,” law minister Kiren Rijiju said, adding that it will help end bogus voting and make the electoral process credible. “This bill is opposed only by those who take advantage of fake voting,” Rijiju said. “Otherwise, there is no basis for opposing this bill.”
Members of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Janata Dal(United), YSR Congress Party, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Biju Janata Dal and Tamil Maanila Congress supported the bill, saying it will help in eliminating duplicate voters.
But lawmakers from the Congress, Trinamool Congress, Left parties, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, and Samajwadi Party opposed the bill, and said it might lead to mass disenfranchisement.
“It’s a violation of the right to privacy granted by the Constitution. It will cause disenfranchisement of a large number of voters. It will exploit the voters and disadvantaged class of our society… This bill was brought without giving right of hearing,” said Amee Yagnik of the Congress.
In his speech, Rijiju said the Election Commission of India and the government met many times and the election watchdog’s biggest concern was the lack of a system to check duplicate voters. “In our democracy, the electoral process should be clean, and that can happen only if the electoral rolls are clean,” he said.
As Rijiju spoke, the opposition shouted slogans, waving placards and protesting in the well of the house. They demanded a division of votes as they had moved a motion to send the bill to a select committee. The motion was rejected by a voice vote.
TMC member Derek O’Brien and other opposition leaders raised objections over not having sufficient time to scrutinise the bill. “Where is the time to present a resolution asking for a select committee? Forget about merits and demerits,” he said.
O’Brien cited rules for a division of votes even as deputy chairman Harivansh urged members to go to their seats. “I am ready to give division but the members should first go to their seats. Being in the well of the house is unparliamentary. The chair cannot allow division in this situation,” the deputy chairperson said.
When the division didn’t happen, O’Brien threw the rule book on the table where officials sit and walked out of the House. Other opposition leaders joined him.
Leader of the house Piyush Goyal and labour minister Bhupendra Yadav criticised O’Brien. Goyal demanded the TMC leader apologise for his behaviour. “The way he threw the rule book, he just did not insult the chair or secretary general or table office, but the entire nation,” Goyal said.
O’Brien was suspended for the rest of the winter session hours later. “After breaking every rule and precedent, BJP have the gall to give lecture about the rule book #Parliament. Irony just died,” he said.
The bill proposes an amendment to Section 23 of the Representation of the People Act (RP Act), 1950, allowing the linking of electoral roll data with the Aadhaar database to “curb the menace of multiple enrolment of the same person in different places”.
In 2015, the poll watchdog undertook pilot projects to use Aadhaar data to remove duplication and fake entries from electoral rolls before the Supreme Court struck down the exercise. In the 2017 Puttaswamy judgment, the top court enumerated only certain areas – mostly subsidies – for which Aadhaar could be made mandatory. The government in 2019 amended the Aadhaar Act, allowing for the 12-digit identity number to be used for more utilities and services.
Opposition parties and digital privacy groups say the draft legislation could have implications on privacy and potential voter profiling.
The bill, however, says that no application for inclusion of name in the electoral roll “shall be denied and no entries in the electoral roll shall be deleted for inability of an individual to furnish or intimate Aadhaar number due to such sufficient cause as may be prescribed, provided that such individual may be allowed to furnish such other alternate documents as may be prescribed”.
The bill further proposes a change to Clause (b) of section 14 of the RP Act 1950, allowing voters to register four times a year, instead of just once. The new dates for registration will be January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1.
The draft legislation also calls for substitution of the word wife with the word spouse in the RP Act. It seeks to enable the requisition of premises for the purpose of being polling stations, counting, storage of ballot boxes, voting machines and poll related materials by proposing a change to Section 160 of the RP Act, 1951.