Amid vociferous protests from Opposition members , the Lok Sabha on Monday passed a Bill to link electoral roll data with the Aadhaar ecosystem without any substantial discussion.
Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju, while moving the Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021 , told the House that the linking of the electoral roll with a person’s Aadhaar was “voluntary”, but went on to quote a report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice to assert that the process would “purify” the rolls.
The manner of passing the Bill, barely two hours after it was introduced in the Lok Sabha and in the midst of an uproar, led Opposition members to accuse the Narendra Modi government of “compromising” the authority of Parliament.
In a departure from the norm, even Congress leader in the House Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury was seen throwing bits of papers towards the Well of the House in protest.
BJP member Nishikant Dubey alleged that the Congress and Trinamool Congress members were opposing the Bill as they relied on “illegal Bangladeshis” as their vote banks. Hitting back at Mr. Dubey, NCP member Supriya Sule said the BJP should first clarify the allegation about a Minister in the present Council of Ministers being a Bangladeshi national.
Opposing the passage of the Bill, Mr. Chowdhury said, “What is the tearing hurry to pass the Bill? It should be sent to the Standing Committee.”
Responding to him, the Law Minister said the provisions were extensively discussed by the parliamentary panel on law and justice and it also gave a unanimous report. “We have not brought this in a dictatorial way,” Mr. Rijiju told the Opposition members.
While Trinamool members Kalyan Banerjee and Mahua Moitra were agitated over the government pushing through the Bill, parties that are friendly to the government — the Biju Janata Dal and the YSR Congress — also urged it not to pass the Bill in the din.
At the time of introduction, several members, including Manish Tewari and Shashi Tharoor of the Congress, Asaduddin Owaisi of the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen and N.K. Premachandran of the Revolutionary Socialist Party, opposed the Bill.
The Bill allows electoral registration officers to ask for Aadhaar numbers of applicants who want to register as voters to establish the identity of the applicant. It also seeks to allow the officers to ask for the Aadhaar number from “persons already included in the electoral roll for the purposes of authentication of entries in electoral roll, and to identify registration of name of the same person in the electoral roll of more than one constituency or more than once in the same constituency”.
At the same time, the Bill makes it clear 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”.
People who cannot furnish their Aadhaar numbers will be allowed to present other documents to establish identity.
The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill states that Section 23 of the Representation of People Act, 1950, will be amended to allow linking of the electoral roll data with the Aadhaar ecosystem “to curb the menace of multiple enrolment of the same person in different places”.
The amendment to Section 14 of the RP Act, 1950, will allow to have four “qualifying” dates for eligible people to register as voters.
As of now, January 1 of every year is the sole qualifying date. People who turn 18 on or before January 1 can register as voters. Those turning 18 after that have to wait for a whole year to register as voters.
Now, “January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 in a calendar year” will be the qualifying dates in relation to the preparation or revision of the rolls.
The amendment to Section 20 of the RP Act, 1950, and Section 60 of the RP Act, 1951, will allow the elections to become gender neutral for service voters.
It will also help replace the word “wife” with “spouse”, making the statutes “gender neutral”. This seeks to redress any discrimination against male spouses of women armed services employees.