Lok Sabha 2019
Bengaluru has consistently seen a dismal voter turnout percentage, but many citizens say their names are deleted from electoral rolls without any explanation.

Yamini Mazumdar, 88, was looking forward to vote like any other responsible citizen. But even though she has a voter ID,  she won’t be able to cast her vote this election. That’s because her name was removed from the voter roll by the Bengaluru civic body.

Speaking to TNM, she claimed even though she had alerted election officials about the issue a month ago, there has been no rectification.

“One month ago, I had found out that my name is not there on the voter list. When I asked my staff to go check with the officials, they found out that my domestic help and cook’s names are there, who live in the same house. The officials told them that, ‘I was not living here for three months,’ but this is totally untrue. I am 88, I don’t go out of town. I had been out just once for my granddaughter’s wedding for two days. How can they say I have been out of the country?” said Yamini, whose daughter is Bengaluru-based entrepreneur Kiran Mazumdar Shaw.

She further said, “It is not that they have come to my house to check or something. How can they just remove somebody’s name? Nobody has come to my house to check. Since I was 21, I have voted in every election in whichever city I was in, be it Delhi, be it Baroda or be it Bengaluru. I have never missed even once. Even in a wheelchair, I have gone to vote. I am living in the same house for the last 15 years.”

A top EC, however, official claimed that they had not received any complaint.

“We have not got any representation from them at the CEO’s office. They might have gone to the BBMP. We have come to know of it only four days earlier. We have sought a report from BBMP. On the preliminary enquiry, BBMP has said that she was not staying there when ‘our people visited,’” Additional Chief Electoral Officer KN Ramesh told TNM.

He added, “It is a case of deletion if our people find out that she is not residing in the address she has given. Secondly, the last date for including or deleting voters in the list was March 16, so there is no way we can do anything now. Anyway, we have sought a detailed report.”

According to The Hindu, more than 5 lakh voters were deleted from the Bengaluru electoral rolls between May 2018 and January 2019, while only around 4 lakh new voter names were added. Officers can delete voter names from the rolls if the voter is no longer living at the registered address, if the voter has died or if the person is registered to vote elsewhere in the country or state.

But Yamini seemingly isn’t alone in her plight as several others in Bengaluru are being denied the opportunity to vote. In February 2018, residents’ collective Whitefield Rising moved the Karnataka High Court after many of its members were rejected when they applied for voter ID cards, allegedly without any explanation. Salil Shetty, another Bengaluru resident who was recently denied a voter ID seemingly without reason impleaded himself in the case.

Speaking to TNM, he said, “Despite applying well before the closing date and sending written and telephone complaints with the CEO Karnataka, BBMP officials and even fighting my case in a PIL in the High Court of Karnataka, I have been denied my constitutional right to vote in the LS election and the officials have gone scot-free. They have simply lied, even to the Chief Justice, that they have followed the due process.”

Is Bengaluru really irresponsible?

Every time Bengaluru goes to polls, reports of low voter turnout follow. Headlines such as ‘Bengaluru pulls down voting percentage of Karnataka’ are common. For example, in the 2018 Assembly Elections, Bengaluru (Urban) district recorded a dismal polling percentage of 54.72%, a drop from the 57.38% (in comparison to the statewide average of 72.13%). It’s widely assumed that Bengaluru’s low voter turnout stems from apathy and a lack of civic responsibility.

But there is another side to the story, as activists claim that an inaccurate voter list and the Election Commission are the roots of the problems. And the problems can be various — omissions, deletions and duplications, among others.

Crunching the numbers

PG Bhat, a retired naval officer and software professional has been conducting elaborate studies on the electoral rolls across the country with a focus in Bengaluru and Delhi. He said the problems over the years have only increased, the most obvious being inflated electoral rolls.

BBMP has stated that Bengaluru has a population of 1.25 crore, and according to the 2011 Census, 40% of Indians are below the age of 18, Bhat says. If the population is rounded up to 1.3 crore for calculation purposes, Bengaluru cannot have more than 78 lakh eligible voters in the city. “But the latest voter rolls say that we have more than 90 lakh voters,” he says. The Election Commission has stated voter turnout for the 2018 Assembly polls was 55%, but according to Bhat, “it is actually over 70 percent.”

Bhat also added that, “There is the issue of photo voter slips. It is supposed to be given by the Election Commission to each voter but it is done by political parties. So if a voter does not have the slip, the booth officers often ask voters to get it from the political parties who may not have the updated voter rolls. And then going by that sometimes they are told that they do not have a  vote in that booth even if they do.”