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Synopsis: Recently, ECI proposed de-duplication of Voter ID by linking it with Aadhar. This needs careful consideration.
This week marks 3 years of the Puttaswamy judgement. In the Judgement, a constitutional bench of the Supreme Court (SC) had reduced the scope of the Aadhaar project to contain its risks to the privacy of citizens. The government, however, continues to violate the “red lines” that were drawn by the judgement.
How has the Government violated the red lines of SC Judgement?
Within a year of the verdict, the government amended the Aadhaar Act to permit the use of Aadhaar authentication for telecom and banking services. This was done by a 2019 amendment, which is a pending challenge in the SC.
The amendment also permitted the government to expand the “purposes” that Aadhaar authentication can be used for. And in 2020, the government notified the Aadhaar Authentication for Good Governance (Social Welfare, Innovation, Knowledge) Rules, 2020 (Good Governance Rules) to broaden the scope of Aadhaar authentication.
Moreover, according to some reports, the law ministry has approached the UIDAI seeking Aadhaar authentication for voter verification. This was done on the basis of a proposal by the Election Commission of India (ECI) to the law ministry, which sought permission to use Aadhaar numbers to de-duplicate the voter database.
How does the ECI’s proposal stand against the proportionality test?
The proportionality test was laid down in the right to privacy case (Puttaswamy case). It lays strict parameters for state action that infringes on the right to privacy. It states such an action must be backed by law, and this law must be a suitable means in pursuance of a legitimate state aim.
But the government’s previous attempts to link voter ID and Aadhaar offer evidence that this may disenfranchise people, and deprive them of their voting rights, which is their constitutional right.
For this reason in 2015, an SC order halted the National Election Roll Purification and Authentication Programme, which sought to link Aadhaar with voter IDs. Despite this order, the governments of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh went ahead and linked the two. As a result, in 2018, at least 55 lakh voters were arbitrarily deleted from the voter database.
Finally, a law can be considered proportional only if it doesn’t have a disproportionate impact on the rights holder. Articles 325 and 326 of our Constitution promise universal adult suffrage. And we had seen in the case of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana where 55 Lakh people were disenfranchised. Thus, this law can have a significant impact on the rights of people.
What should be done?
The ECI has not shown why traditional verification mechanisms don’t work, or how they can be fixed through technology. So the ECI should first explore alternatives than proposing a restrictive law. Thus, this recent attempt of ECI to link Aadhaar and Voter ID needs greater scrutiny.
Source: This post is based on the article “The proposal to link Aadhaar with Voter ID is unconstitutional” published in the Indian Express on 1st October 2021.