By Arsh Rampal
A PIL has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking a direction to the Election Commission (EC) to implement an Aadhaar based election voting system. A bench headed by the Chief Justice along with Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud agreed to hear the matter after four weeks.
The PIL has been filed by BJP leader and advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay. It wants the central government and the Election Commission to link Aadhaar numbers of voters to the electoral rolls, ensuring that each person has only one vote and thus preventing voter fraud, considered a major problem in a democracy.
The proposed procedure
The petitioner has listed down seven necessary steps in order to conduct voting that involves the use of Aadhaar. The first two steps require the voter to go to any polling station then go to the voting compartment when their turn arrives. The third step requires the voter to undergo a fingerprint scan. The fourth step is where the scanned fingerprint is matched with the Aadhaar database and checks the eligibility of the voter depending upon their age. The fifth step deals with the confirmation or rejection of the voter based upon their eligibility. The sixth and seventh steps deal with the choice of the candidate from the list and registration of the vote. The petitioner insists that the use of Aadhaar should not lead to the denial of voting rights and it shouldn’t be made mandatory.
The current Chief Election Commissioner of India, Om Prakash Rawat, agrees that Aadhaar based voting systems should be in place in the country. This linking would help citizens vote in any state just like the members of the armed forces. The use of biometrics will also be a fool-proof way of identification of voters. He disagrees with the procedure suggested in the petition. He believes that the Electronic Voter Machines (EVMs) should not be abandoned and should continue to be a part of the process. The EVMs should be the sole machine to register votes according to the CEC.
Why is it required?
The primary reason for filing PIL by the petitioner is to prevent voter fraud in the country. It is contended by the petitioner that under the present system which allows one person to cast several fraudulent votes, as there is no effective way of confirming the identity of the voter. The system would also allow a single voter to cast their vote from any constituency regardless of whether they are enlisted in its electoral roll or not. The digitisation of the process will also help make the system more transparent and efficient.
Sections 17 and 18 of the Representation of People’s Act, 195, prohibits any voter to be registered as a voter in more than one constituency or more than once in the electoral roll. Preventing the voter from exercising their right to vote in any other constituency other than in which they are based. In the present scenario, a large chunk of the working population works in a city different than their city of origin and would thus have to travel in order to cast their vote, a major cause for the low voter turn-out in the country. In 2018 it should be possible to allow a single voter to exercise their right to vote from any part of the country, thus its crucial to change the voting system that would allow this.
Bottlenecks in implementation
The petitioner highlights four limitations of an Aadhaar based voting system in his petition. The first being, people must be enrolled with an Aadhaar Card, a proposal that would cause several problems, especially to those who do not possess an Aadhaar Card. Many cases have been reported where basic ration has been denied to citizens because they lack an Aadhaar card, in extreme cases leading to death. Although the petition proposes otherwise, similar problems could arise in the voting system where the right to vote is denied to the voter for a lack of an Aadhaar card.
The second and third limitations deal with the requirement of internet and electricity at all times during the voting, a significant problem with the suggested voting system. India still suffers from power issues and large areas of the country still don’t have access to electricity. EVMs, on the other hand, operate on batteries and thus do not require electricity and hence it’s imperative that a replacement for EVMs should also not require permanent access to electricity. Also, the current system requires access to the internet, making the system highly prone to hacking. Any system in the world which is connected to the internet can be remotely accessed and tampered with easily. In the present scenario where there are large reports of EVM tampering, therefore it’s undeniable that proposed system can easily tamper.
The fourth limitation deals with the requirement of a fingerprint scanner at the voting booth, a necessary requirement to identify voters and cannot be compromised upon in an Aadhaar based voting system. The lack of a fingerprint scanner would render the Aadhaar details as prone to fraudulent use as the voter ID, this does not mean however that the use of biometrics does not come without its own drawbacks. The inefficiency of using biometrics has largely been discussed in the matter dealing with the constitutional validity of the mandatory use of Aadhaar. The court is likely to hear similar arguments in the present case as well.
While an Aadhaar based voting system aims to tackle some of the most crucial issues related to voting in India, it still suffers from several issues, most of which deal with the use of Aadhaar itself. The Supreme Court is hearing a wide variety of arguments regarding the inefficiency and uselessness of the Aadhaar card in availing certain government benefits. The infrastructural problems to implement the same also prove to be a big issue. It seems unlikely that the Supreme Court will pass the direction prayed for by the petitioner until it decides upon the constitutional validity of Aadhaar itself.
Featured Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
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