The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021 that seeks to link electoral rolls to the Aadhaar database was passed in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday amidst dramatic scenes, which ended with the suspension of TMC’s Derek O’ Brien after he threw a rule book at the reporters’ table after the Opposition’s motion to send the legislation to a select committee was defeated by a voice vote and a division was denied since the House was not in order.
The Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on Monday.
The Opposition said the Bill would disenfranchise many voters and it was a violation of the right to privacy as guaranteed by the Constitution.
Opposition baseless: Rijiju
Law Minister Kiren Rijiju said the opposition to the Bill was baseless and “only those who use bogus voters list will oppose this Bill”. The Bill was brought in after several rounds of consultations with the Election Commission of India (ECI). He pointed out that the standing committee too held deliberations, during which many Opposition MPs argued in favour of this reform.
“One of the major concerns of the ECI was duplicity in electoral rolls. There was no system, no law to establish names in multiple electoral rolls and to delete and remove those names...election process should be clean and it will be clean only if the electoral roll is clean, if I am a genuine voter, why will I oppose the Bill?” he stated. The Bill allowed electoral registration officers to ask for the Aadhaar numbers of those wanting to register as voters to establish the identity.
Mr. Rijiju said many members had raised the Puttaswamy judgement of the Supreme Court. The court had said that if government intervened in privacy, there should be a justification for it. “The Supreme Court said there should be an existence of law, so we have brought this law. It said there should be legitimate reason, case of proportionality. The returning officer will be able to use Aadhaar as an identity document and that electoral database will be with the ECI and not in public domain,” he clarified.
“Parliamentary Standing Committee recommended to link Aadhaar with the electoral roll” and the “country has understood how necessary this electoral reform Bill is. it is a revolutionary bill,” he asserted.
The Opposition’s motion to send the legislation for further parliamentary scrutiny by a select committee moved by CPI(M)’s John Brittas and DMK’s Tiruchi Siva was defeated by a voice vote. Mr. Brittas pressed for a division, but Deputy Chairman Harivansh rejected the demand, saying the division cannot take place when the Opposition members were protesting in the well of the House.
Opposition walks out
Ignoring the Opposition slogans, Mr. Harivansh went ahead with the procedure to pass the Bill. It was at this point, the Congress and the majority of the Opposition staged a walkout.
The Trinamool Congress MPs stayed back. Mr. O’ Brien, moving a point of order, said, “Please understand we have all the regard for the Chair and the rules. But you are doing the same thing as you did with the three farm Bills.” He flicked the rulebook towards the reporters’ table in front of the Chair before walking out of the House.
Even if voting had taken place, the Opposition did not have the requisite numbers. Even before the debate on the Bill started, Mr. O’Brien accused the government of “manufacturing majority” by suspending 12 Opposition MPs. Mr. O’Brien, who has been suspended for the remaining days of the winter session that is scheduled to end on December 23, is the 13th Opposition MP to be suspended.
Speaking to The Hindu later, Mr. Brittas said the onus of bringing the House to order cannot be on the member demanding a division. “I asked the Deputy Chairman that as the custodian of the House, it is his duty to bring it in order. As a member, it is my rightful place to ask for a physical vote on a motion. But today it was denied to me,” he observed.
CPI’s Binoy Viswam attacked the government for the suspension of Mr O’Brien. “They began the session by suspending 12 of us. They close the session by suspending one more. What do they think about Parliament? Another silly playground for them? BJP is trying to ridicule Parliament by doing whatever the modern autocratic monarchs want to impose. Shame on them,” he tweeted.