By Rajnish Singh
New Delhi, Jan 24 (IANS) Union Law Ministry has been working on a Cabinet note to prepare a new law after considering the Election Commission’s proposal to give it statutory backing to collect the Aadhaar numbers of new applicants and existing voters to check multiple entries in the electoral rolls.
The Ministry, sources said, is working to amend the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and is expected to submit the changes before the Cabinet committee, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for its consideration so that a Bill in this regard could be introduced before the Parliament.
The amendments to the Representation of the People Act will require citizens to link their Electoral Photo ID Card (EPIC) with the 12-digit Aadhaar, while ensuring privacy protection.
“The Ministry is busy in preparing a Cabinet note considering Election Commission’s proposal to tweak the electoral law,” an official, requesting anonymity told IANS.
The official said it is not yet decided by the Law Ministry when it will present the note before the Cabinet, but indicated that it can be put before or during the budget session — which will commence on January 31 and subject to the exigencies of government business, is likely to conclude on April 3 with a 19-day recess in between.
In a letter to the Law Ministry, the Election Commission in August last year proposed that provisions of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 be amended to allow it to seek Aadhaar numbers of those applying to be voters and those who are already part of the electoral rolls.
As per EC’s proposal, the electoral law should be amended to empower electoral registration officers to seek Aadhaar number of existing voters as well as of those applying to get their names on the voters’ list. Seeking to check multiple entries in the electoral rolls and to make them error-free, Election Commission had in 2015 embarked on an ambitious National Electoral Roll Purification and Authentication Programme (NERPAP) project to link Aadhaar numbers with the voters’ electoral data to check multiple entries in electoral rolls.
The Commission on January 23, 2015 issued a letter to the Chief Electoral Officers of all states and Union Territories (UTs) to collect Aadhaar number from the applicants under its NERPAP project activities which were launched on March 3, 2015. In the letter, poll panel had stressed that “one of the major objectives of the NERPAP was the linking and authentication of the EPIC data of electors with Aadhaar data of UIDAI”.
The poll panel functionary had to stop the project following a Supreme Court’s August 11, 2015 order clearing that sanction of law is required to collect the Aadhaar numbers. By that time, it had covered nearly 380 million voters. India currently has more than 750 million registered voters.
The Apex court issued the order while considering a writ petition, mentioning: “The production of an Aadhaar card will not be a condition for obtaining any benefit otherwise due to a citizen.
“The unique identification number or the Aadhaar card will not be used by the respondents for any purpose other than the PDS scheme and in particular for the purpose of distribution of foodgrains, etc. and cooking fuel, such as kerosene. The Aadhaar card may also be used for the purpose of the LPG distribution scheme.
“The information about an individual obtained by the Unique Identification Authority of India while issuing an Aadhaar card shall not be used for any other purpose, save as above, except as may be directed by a court for the purpose of criminal investigation,” the court order mentioned.
In light of the order, the Commission in its August 13, 2015 order to the Chief Electoral Officers of all states and Union Territories declared that activities relative to the “collection, feeding, seeding” of the Aadhaar numbers being undertaken under the NERPAP “shall be suspended with immediate effect till further direction”.
(Rajnish Singh can be contacted at [email protected])