A critical yet important segment of politics, the Indian electoral ecosystem is undergoing a greatly needed transformation. The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill 2021 was passed in Lok Sabha as well as Rajya Sabha despite the dramatic narrative and gimmicks of the opposition.
What is the bill about
The bill seeks to amend various sections of the Representation of the People Act, 1950 and 1951. The 1950 Act provides for allocation of seats and delimitation of constituencies for elections, qualifications of voters, and preparation of electoral rolls.
The 1951 Act provides for the conduct of elections, and offences and disputes related to elections. Here are some major highlights of the bill approved.
Linking electoral roll data with Aadhaar: The 1950 Act provides that a person may apply to the electoral registration officer for inclusion of their name in the electoral roll of a constituency. After verification, if the officer is satisfied that the applicant is entitled to registration, he will direct the applicant’s name to be included in the electoral roll.
The Bill adds that the electoral registration officer may require a person to furnish their Aadhaar number for establishing their identity. If their name is already in the electoral roll, then the Aadhaar number may be required for authentication of entries in the roll. People will not be denied inclusion in the electoral roll or have their names deleted from the roll, if they are unable to furnish Aadhaar number due to sufficient cause as prescribed. Such persons may be permitted to furnish alternate documents
prescribed by the central government.
Qualifying date for enrolment in electoral roll: Under the 1950 Act, the qualifying date for enrolment in the electoral roll is January 1 of the year in which such roll is being prepared or revised. This implies that a person who turns 18 (i.e., eligible to vote) after January 1 can enrol in the electoral roll only when the roll is prepared/ revised the next year.
The Bill amends this to provide four qualifying dates in a calendar year, which will be January 1, April 1, July 1, and October 1.
Requisitioning of premises for election purposes: The 1951 Act permits the state government to requisition premises needed or likely to be needed for being used as polling stations, or for storing ballot boxes after a poll has been conducted.
The Bill expands the purposes for which such premises can be requisitioned. These include using the premises for counting, storage of voting machines and poll-related material, and accommodation of security forces and polling personnel.
Gender-neutral provisions: The 1950 Act permits certain persons who are ordinarily resident in a constituency to register in electoral rolls. Such persons include those holding a service qualification, such as members of the armed forces or central government employees posted outside India. The wives of such persons are also deemed to be ordinarily residing in the same constituency if they reside with them.
The 1951 Act enables the wife of a person holding a service qualification to vote either in person or by postal ballot.
The Bill replaces the term ‘wife’ with ‘spouse’ in both the Acts. Aadhaar linking with the electoral roll will root out multiple enrolments of the same person at different places. Once the Aadhaar linkage is achieved, the electoral roll data system will instantly alert the existence of previous registration whenever a person applies for new registration.
What is the Opposition and Government's Take
The approved bill has become an eyesore for the opposition. It is apparent from their shallow tactics and arguments. Opposition lambasted the government with various accusations. The paucity of depth in their reasoning is simply showcasing their
Opposition members claimed that the move to link the electoral roll with the Aadhaar number would violate privacy and could even allow non-citizens to vote. The biggest allegation is that the legislative document should be referred to the concerned standing committee for further scrutiny given the fact that this is an infringement on the fundamental right of privacy as enunciated by the Supreme Court. It will lead to mass disenfranchisement.
One of the opposition members has also commented that the bill has been approved keeping in mind the upcoming Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections. This superficial remark just surfaced the vulnerable and miserable condition of the opposition.
While others claimed that the Bill is outside the legislative competence of the House and violates the limits on legislation set by the apex court. Some sceptics said that the Centre is interfering in the jurisdiction of the Election Commission of India. Thus, according to them, it will harm democratic principles.
Law and Justice Minister Kiren Rijiju said that this Bill will bring important electoral reforms in the country. He added that this Bill was brought after wide consultations with the Election Commission and also with the state governments and it will purify the electoral process in the country.
Kiren Rijiju said that linking Aadhaar with voter ID will be voluntary. The amendment bill makes it clear. The government has brought the Bill after the recommendation of the Standing Committee Report of the Department of Personnel and Training, Law and Justice,
consisting of members of all political parties.
During the discussion, Kiren Rijiju said, "There are numerous instances of bogus voters. Earlier we did not have any system in place to weed out bogus voters. Only those who make use of fake voters will oppose the Bill. If one is a genuine voter, then there is no need to oppose the Bill. I request that this revolutionary Bill be supported by all members of the House.”
However, members of Congress, TMC, Left parties, DMK and NCP walked out from the House in protest. The protesting members have either not gone through the draft Bill or are deliberately showing ignorance of the new provisions.
In short, the bill has irked the so-called opposition as the sham voters used by them for their vote banks will witness a chokehold on their nexus. Their air headed demonstration is the elementary reason of their political debacle. The current opposition has stooped so low that instead of participating healthily in the deliberations in the parliament, they just have become a cause of chaos.
The constant and recurring cheap methods to stall and adjourn the discussions in the parliament in the recent times have become a blot on the Indian democracy. They have made a mockery of the true meaning of opposition.