September 26, 2021
Three years ago today, on September 26, 2018, the Supreme Court of India delivered its final judgment in the cases challenging the constitutionality of the Aadhaar/UID programme. In its judgment, the Court circumscribed the Aadhaar project’s scope to a limited number of purposes, finding it constitutional only by reading it down. The Court permitted the use of Aadhaar authentication solely to welfare programmes (where Aadhaar continues to cause mass exclusions) and to link with PAN numbers for income tax (which continues to be extended).
Today, more than 500 prominent citizens and organisations have written to the Election Commission of India, strongly opposing a fresh proposal to the Law Ministry to link voter ID cards (and the “EPIC” database) with Aadhaar, as violative of the Supreme Court’s judgment and detrimental to our right to privacy and right to vote, and calling for it to be withdrawn.
The statement, which calls this proposal a “dangerous idea that can disenfranchise people and fundamentally alter the structure of our democracy,” has been endorsed by 24 campaigns and organisations, including electoral reform group, Association for Democratic Reforms; civil rights groups from across the country including the Peoples’ Union of Civil Liberties, MKSS and NAPM Jharkhand; and digital rights groups such as Rethink Aadhaar, Article 21 Trust, Internet Freedom Foundation, the Bachao Project, and the Free Software Movement of India. It has also been signed by 480 prominent individuals, including former civil servants, journalists, lawyers, social activists, researchers, and students.
The Election Commission has claimed that this will help clean up voter rolls, and that any linkage will be “voluntary”. As previous representations have noted, including a recent one made by the Constitutional Conduct Group, the proposal raises concerns of mass disenfranchisement, increased voter fraud (given the large number of documented discrepancies in the Aadhaar database) and of violating citizens’ right to privacy by enabling voter profiling through the linkage of datasets.
The right to vote cannot be imperilled by irresponsibly linking databases and using an opaque algorithm to “verify” identities. Technological solutions cannot replace responsible administration. Timely door-to-door verification of voters remains the most effective method of updating electoral rolls and ensuring accuracy of voter data.
- Jagdeep Chhokar, former Professor and Dean of IIM, Ahmedabad, and a founding member of the Association of Democratic Reforms, said, “The insistence of the Election Commission on linking the voter ID data with Aadhaar is quite surprising, because, in the past, at least two former Chief Election Commissioners have cautioned against this linkage. The UIDAI seems to be pressuring the Election Commission for this linkage, seemingly to gain legitimacy for the Aadhaar scheme. It seems finally the then-incumbent Chief Election Commissioner caved in and agreed to do this. This was stopped by the Supreme Court in 2015 as soon as it came to the attention of the Supreme Court. Now again, the Election Commission, in collaboration with the Law Ministry seems to be trying to circumvent the Supreme Court’s directions, which is inappropriate and not acceptable. It is hoped that the Supreme Court will not take kindly to this attempt to circumvent its instructions, by a sleight of hand, or a play on words.”
- Reetika Khera, development economist and Associate Professor at IIT, Delhi, and expert on the impact of technology on welfare pointed out: “Remember that during UPA-2, Aadhaar was peddled as inclusive and transformational for welfare programmes. This was done on the basis of a claim, unsubstantiated at the time and proven false later, that the ration, and NREGA databases were infested with ghosts and duplicates. The same is being repeated now. Where Aadhaar has been forcibly integrated (e.g., in the PDS, NREGA, social security pensions, scholarships, etc.), people struggle to retain or regain access to entitlements. Technocratic unaccountability has been added to bureaucratic red tape, spending money on rectifying demographic errors in the Aadhaar database. They have fallen victim to fraud, and in extreme cases, outright excluded from their legal entitlements. The same issues – fraud, corruption, exclusion – will crop up if Aadhaar is allowed in the voting process in any manner.”
- Maansi Verma, of Article 21 Trust said: “The Election Commission’s proposal to link Aadhaar and voter IDs violates the Supreme Court’s judgement, and is detrimental to our right to privacy, and our right to vote.”
Read the statement and see the signatories here.