The Election Commission of India (ECI) has launched the NERPAP campaign to purify the electoral rolls and remove duplicates. In the process, it has launched linking Aadhaar with one’s Voter ID. This was perceived and publicized in the media as a mandatory exercise and that failing to do so would result in deletion of names from the Voter list. The ECI has now clarified that this exercise is only voluntary and no electoral service will be denied for failing to do so.
For the last few months, citizens have been receiving messages from various quarters about linking one’s Voter ID with their Aadhaar. The messages go to the extent of saying that not linking Aadhaar will result in deletion of their names from the electoral roll. But is this true? And can the Election Commission of India go against what the Supreme Court of India said about Aadhaar?
On 27th Feb 2015, The Election Commission of India (ECI) launched the NERPAP (National Electoral Rolls Purification & Authentication Program). This was done against the backdrop of duplicate names, multiple entries, repeating images and repeating Voter ID numbers etc. The procedure for deletion of multiple names & replacement is also not streamlined and not followed in all states. ECI also observed that the Booth Level Officers (BLOs) were not giving enough attention to these issues and are not disposing complaints in a given time frame. The ECI also mentioned cases where various courts expressed concern about such defective electoral rolls.
Against this background, the NERPAP was launched with the following major objectives,
- Linking and Authentication of Voter ID (EPIC) data of voters with Aadhaar data of UIDAI.
- Voluntary disclosure by voters about multiple entries concerning them and disposal of such cases within 15 days.
- Correction of errors.
- Improvement of Image Quality wherever requested.
- Obtaining the feeding the mobile number and email address of the voter so that periodic information of revision, deletion, correction and other details can be sent to the voter.
A detailed methodology was suggested for feeding the Aadhaar number against the Voter ID. The process followed in Andhra Pradesh & Telangana earlier as a pilot was suggested to be followed by all the states. The Chief Electoral Officers (CEOs) of various states were asked to do a set of preparatory activities including press conferences, meetings with district officials, formation of Booth Awareness groups, setting up of a state call center and proper training to officials.
The ECI also asked CEOs to give enough publicity to the Voluntary Disclosure of Multiple Entries campaign. It directed the CEOs to give advertisements in media, cinema halls highlighting that enrolling one’s name at more than one place is a punishable offence under Section 31 of the Representation of People’s Act.
The Chief Electoral Officers (CEOs) of various states have been publicizing this on all platforms. Various media houses (print & electronic) gave ample publicity to this initiative. Though the CEOs did not say it is mandatory, media has been projecting this exercise as mandatory and that names would be deleted in case one does not link their Aadhaar with their Voter ID.
Is Linking Aadhaar Mandatory?
Time & Again, the Supreme Court has made it clear that Government cannot make Aadhaar mandatory for any scheme and issued a stern warning to the Government in March 2015. Surprisingly, the ECI’s letter launching the NERPAP does not talk about whether this is a mandatory or voluntary exercise. But this silence was perceived in the media and on various social media platforms as this exercise being mandatory. Many people who did not possess Aadhaar were forced to apply for one out of the fear of losing one’s voting rights.
After numerous complaints, the ECI clarified in a letter in April that this is only optional and non-furnishing of Aadhaar will not result in deletion of name. Adequate publicity was not given for this clarification and the campaign in various media platforms was still about this being a mandatory exercise.
After a lot of complaints started landing up at their door, the ECI finally had to issue a detailed clarification on 22nd May, 2015 explaining that this exercise is not mandatory, but only optional.
This clarification cleared all confusion surrounding the issue and it unequivocally said that not linking Aadhaar with the Voter ID will not result in denial of any electoral service to the voter including deletion, fresh enrollment etc. It also said that the collection of Aadhaar is only for authentication and that Aadhaar will not be displayed or reflected anywhere in the electoral roll.
While this clarification directs the CEOs to give adequate publicity to these aspects, it remains to be seen if the Media takes it up in equal measure like they did with NERPAP campaign. But for now, spread the word and tell people that this exercise is not mandatory and nobody needs to worry about their name in the electoral roll.