The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which seeks to link electoral rolls with the Aadhaar ecosystem to weed out duplication, was passed in the Lok Sabha on Monday amid protest by the Opposition. Even parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party, considered ‘friendly’ to the government opposed the Bill.
The Trinamool Congress, the Congress, and the Communist Party of India Marxist (CPI M), bitter political enemies outside Parliament, came together to object to the Bill, which was passed with virtually no discussion amid a din and slogan shouting as members brandished placards that said: “Prime Minister Absent” detailing the days that the PM has not been present in the House since the winter session began in November. Another MP carried a placard that urged the PM to drop Minister of state for Home, Ajay Mishra Teni, from the council of ministers. It seemed even the treasury benches were unprepared for the vehemence of the opposition’s rejection of the Bill.
The Bill provides linking of Aadhaar number with electoral rolls besides giving four opportunities to enrol in a calendar year as a voter upon attaining the age of 18. Besides, the Bill has provisions of gender neutrality in regard with service voters and to enable the requisition of any premises for election purposes.
However, every opposition member who spoke said the Bill will infringe the fundamental rights of citizens. They also alleged that the Bill violates the Supreme Court judgment on Aadhaar and demanded that it be referred to a standing committee. Congress leaders Manish Tewari and Adhir Ranjan Choudhury said the Bill was beyond the legal competence of the House. Tewari said as per the verdict on the famous Puttaswamy versus Union of India order in the Supreme Court, the Aadhaar Act does not allow for linking of the Aadhaar number to the electoral roll. “The Aadhaar Act is very explicit. It is an Act which is for the targeted delivery of financial and other subsidy benefits and services. Voting is a legal right.”
Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi said the Bill was outside the legislative competence of the House as it violates the limits on legislation set by the Supreme Court NK Premachandran (CPI M) said: “No person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty except in accordance with the procedure established by law. This is what Article 21 of the Constitution says. On the basis of Article 21, in Justice Puttaswamy versus Union of India case, the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court has held that right to privacy is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution. In this case, linking the electoral roll with Aadhaar definitely infringes the right to privacy and violates Article 21. Shashi Tharoor (Congress) said Aadhaar was only proof of residence, not proof of citizenship.
Later, after the Lok Sabha had passed the Bill, Law Minister Kiran Rijiju said amendments in the Bill would bring clean and fair elections. He said linking of Aadhaar number with electoral rolls is not compulsory or mandatory but voluntary. Refuting to allegations of the opposition, he said, the amendments were based on the recommendations made by Election Commission and the standing committee as well. He said the government had thoroughly discussed the recommendations with ECI and the states as well.