Ahead of 2019 general elections, there has been uproar across India about voters being deleted from electoral rolls. An analysis of the events so far points towards a new software that linked voter IDs with Aadhaar and used the details to weed out duplicates. The software's role is important because sources say that the Election Commission of India is currently mulling over making it mandatory to link Aadhaar to voter IDs. In October 2018, the Election Commission had also officially supported a petition filed by a lawyer in the Madras High Court, which asked for the linkage for removal of duplications.
On Telangana's voting day on December 7 protests erupted after many voters found their names deleted. In November, there was outrage in Delhi too over similar allegations. Failure of the software during a pilot project in Bihar has also added to worries of voters being deleted.
The root cause appears to be a voter clean up drive using a new Aadhaar-linked software which was carried out nationwide between February and August 2015. It was stopped as constitutional validity of Aadhaar was challenged in the Supreme Court. By then, 32 crore voter IDs had been linked with Aadhaar according to former Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat.
The software used a tool provided by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to place voter IDs and Aadhaar side-by-side, and scan for duplicates. But for someone to be deleted, the Election Commission had to do a door-to-door survey and issue a seven-day notice to each voter.
But the number of complaints raised doubts whether this last-mile was carried out. Telangana Congress leader Marri Shashidhar Reddy claims he found bundles of 22,000 unserved notices during Hyderabad municipal elections in 2015. He said, "I carried two bags full of unserved notices to the election commission in October 2015. EC sent a team of officers to verify my allegations and found them to be correct. Then the illegal deletions were stopped."
However, Chief Electoral Officer of Telangana, Rajat Kumar, says due processes were carried out this time, "Notices were sent to all voters. We shall reach out to every individual again. I am sure deletions don't run into lakhs. With lakhs missing I wouldn't have been able to conduct elections." This runs contrary to his media statement in September where he said that 22 lakh voters had been deleted as a result of the clean-up.
The central Election Commission told us that after those complaints about notices in Telangana they carried out revision of electoral rolls to ensure no errors take place.
In Bihar, where field verification was carried out about findings of the Aadhaar software during a pilot project, results were startling. A letter dated February 2015, written by the Chief Electoral Officer of Bihar, says that the software identified 37 lakh duplicate voters but field verification found the figure to be two lakh voters suggesting the failure rate of the software to be over 90 per cent.
In Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party has claimed that 30 lakh voters have been deleted, particularly traders, minorities and Purvanchali communities who are said to be hostile towards the BJP.
However, the Election Commission said numbers are far lesser and after receiving AAP's complaints, they carried out verification drives and did not find any wrongful deletions.
AAP, however, shared lists of deleted voters, claiming the Election Commission took it off their website later.
The AAP released a video clip from the ground survey in which its leader Raghav Chadha could be seen with an Election Commission official and a man whose name had been deleted from the rolls. In the video the man admits not receiving any notice or information about his name being deleted and claims he has been voting regularly for years.
Cybersecurity expert Srinivas Kodali has filed a petition in the Hyderabad High Court seeking details of the software and has claimed it is deleting names without adhering to the law.
The Election Commission in response to our queries denied any failures because of the Aadhaar-linked clean up drive. When asked whether they have asked for laws to be passed making it mandatory to link Aadhar to voter IDs, they did not deny it outright and replied: "It is a policy matter on which only the Commission can take a decision."
(With inputs from Uma Sudhir)