The Telangana assembly elections in December 2018 witnessed lakhs of voters in the state, mostly from the Greater Hyderabad region, unable to cast their votes as their names were missing from the electoral rolls. Now, an RTI query reveals that the Telangana Election Commission used Aadhaar to delete potential duplicate voters without any verification.
The RTI showed that there were serious discrepancies in the manner in which voter verification was done in 2015, that led to the voter name deletions.
The voter verification was undertaken as part of linking of Aadhaar with voter Ids under the National Electoral Roll Purification and Authentication Programme (NERPAP) across the state. The NERPAPâ€™s main objective was linking and authentication of EPIC (Electoral Photo ID Card) data of electors with Aadhaar data of UIDAI to identify and delete duplicate voters from the electoral rolls.
Nearly 30 lakh voters were deleted from electoral rolls in the state using a software meant to identify duplicate and bogus voters.
"This reveals that the EC simply used Aadhaar to delete potential duplicate voters without any verification in the last elections. Election laws do not allow the ECI to use any software for preparing electoral rolls," said Kiran Chandra, General secretary with Swecha â€” a Hyderabad based NGO working on free software movement in India.
In a letter by the former Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), Banwar Lal to the Election Commission of India (ECI) obtained through RTI, the official wrote, â€śThere is poor progress of the programme in Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) area and the door to door verification has not been conducted properly. There are many complaints stating that Booth Level Officers (BLOs) have not visited their houses in GHMC area whereas there is not even a single complaint from remaining 9 districts, falling outside of GHMC area in Telangana State.â€ť
The letter was written shortly after the controversial meeting between Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao and the CEO where the chief minister asked the state election commission to delete 15 lakh bogus voters from electoral rolls in the Greater Hyderabad region. The meeting had then created a controversy with several political parties accusing the CEO of colluding with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) party to disenfranchise those who have been profiled by the government as opposers of TRS.
In his letter, Banwar Lal writes about the various meetings and video conferences with the then GHMC Commissioner Somesh Kumar, who was also the District Election Officer of Hyderabad. Lal wrote saying, â€śGHMC did not seem to have evinced much interest in NERPAP, other pressing needs were diverting its attention from the NERPAP.â€ť
Somesh Kumar was at the time supervising the execution of NERPAP for the 24 constituencies that come under Greater Hyderabad. He was directly responsible for serving notices to voters who were to be deleted in the Greater Hyderabad region. The notice was also to have a Form-6 attached, a document meant to reapply for voter id in case a voter got deleted wrongfully.
TNM had earlier reported that most, if not all of the voters, did not receive these notices.
In his letter, Lal points out that NERPAP work in the Greater Hyderabad region in Telangana was affected due to acute fund crunch, files being stuck with the Chief Ministerâ€™s Office (CMO) and staff shortage. NERPAP was undertaken in the state between March and August 2015. It was suspended shortly after the Supreme Court ruled that Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for delivery of government services.
By then, the state EC had deleted 30 lakh voters from the electoral rolls in Telangana.
Organisations such as Swecha and Rethink Aadhaar are questioning the methodology used by the ECI to identify duplicate voters using Aadhaar, which at the time was unknown to the public.
The Telangana State Election Commission has in the past time and again denied that voters in the state were deleted wrongfully. The present CEO Rajat Kumar, shortly after the state elections on December 7, apologised to those who could not cast their vote in the state. The official, however, blamed voters for not checking if their names were present in the electoral rolls before the election.