A Bill to link electoral roll data with Aadhaar ecosystem was passed in Lok Sabha on Monday, December 20, after a brief debate amid continuous protest by opposition members over various issues, including the Lakhimpur Kheri violence. The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill 2021, piloted by Law Minister Kiren Rijiju, was passed by a voice vote after a brief discussion during which some opposition members demanded that it be referred to a parliamentary panel for scrutiny.
After the Bill's passage, Lok Sabha was adjourned for the day amid continuous protest by opposition members. Rejecting the demand for referring the Bill to a panel, Rijiju said various proposals which are part of the bill have already been suggested and recommended by the Standing Committee of Law and Personnel.
The minister further said that the bill will cleanse the election system and eliminate multiple entries. He further said the government wanted a full debate on the Bill but could not do so because of the uproar in the House. The minister said that the Bill, which is gender neutral and has four qualifying dates for entry into electoral roll, is in consonance with the Supreme Court's ruling.
Most of the opposition members demanded that the Bill may be referred to the standing committee for scrutiny and detailed deliberations. Leader of Congress Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and Supriya Sule of the NCP wondered why this important Bill was being pushed in a tearing hurry by the government. Many opposition members suggested for garnering public opinion on such an important legislation.
This is no way to pass a legislation and there should be a proper debate and discussion on this, said NK Premchandran of the RSP. Others who opposed the Bill included Ritesh Pandey (BSP), Kalyan Banerjee (TMC), Asaduddin Owaisi (AIMIM) and ET Mohammed Basheer. The Bill seeks to allow electoral registration officers to seek Aadhaar number of people who want to register as voters "for the purpose of establishing the identity."
It also seeks to allow the electoral registration officers to ask for 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 amendment 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." Such people will be allowed to furnish other alternative documents as may be prescribed.
According to the Bill circulated to Lok Sabha members ahead of its introduction, various sections of the Representation of the People Act will be amended. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill states that Section 23 of the RP Act will be amended to allow linking of electoral roll data with the Aadhaar ecosystem "to curb the menace of multiple enrolment of the same person in different places."
Amendment to Section 14 of the RP Act 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 one whole year to register as voters.
Now, "the 1st day of January, 1st day of April, 1st day of July and 1st day of October in a calendar year" will be the qualifying dates in relation to the preparation or revision of electoral rolls. Amendment to Section 20 of the RP Act, 1950 and Section 60 of the RP Act, 1951 will allow the elections become gender neutral for service voters. The amendment will also help replace the word "wife" with the word "spouse" making the statutes "gender neutral."
An Armyman's wife is entitled to be enrolled as a service voter, but a woman Army officer's husband is not, according to provisions in the electoral law. With "wife" being replaced by the term "spouse," this will change.