In September, the Supreme Court had ruled that Aadhaar could only be made mandatory for PAN cards, filing ITR returns and for welfare schemes. But now the Election Commission of India is reportedly keen to push for mandatory linking of voter IDs with the 12-digit biometric number.
The body will propose amendments to the Representation of the People Act, 1951, that will require citizens to link their Electoral Photo ID Card (EPIC) with Aadhaar, while ensuring privacy protection, people in the know told The Economic Times. According to them, this move is aimed at improving the accuracy of the electoral rolls.
In May 2015, the commission had launched the National Electoral Roll Purification and Authentication Programme (NERPAP), which involved voluntary Aadhaar-voter ID linking in order to prepare an "error free, purified and authenticated Electoral Roll", as the government said in a statement at the time. The programme was stopped several months later - after covering nearly 380 million voters - in the face of court cases over privacy concerns. India boasts more than 750 million registered voters at present.
Following the apex court's September ruling, the commission had sought the advice of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) on the applicability of the judgement to its plans of resuming Aadhaar linking on a voluntary basis. The daily added that the Aadhaar-issuing body suggested an interim measure to allow this in a limited fashion but made it clear that full-fledged linkage would need legal backing.
Given that the Commission considers Aadhaar-Voter ID seeding the best tool for weeding out duplication and misrepresentation in electoral rolls - a concern that political parties have been vociferously airing in poll-bound states - it decided to work on a permanent solution by approaching the Law Ministry. With almost all parties supporting the concept at a meeting in August, the Election Commission believes it's on strong ground. Moreover, Aadhaar linkage and voter authentication are considered critical to its plans of implementing internet-based voting, proxy voting and giving 'remote' voting rights to domestic migrants.
In August, a bill allowing overseas Indians to appoint a proxy voter to cast their votes, on the lines of service voters, was passed by the Lok Sabha. According to Ministry of External Affairs data, there are about 3.10 crore NRIs living across the globe but unofficial data with EC reveals that only 10,000 -12,000 overseas voters exercised their franchise - few NRIs are willing to spend foreign currency to come home to vote. This bill was aimed at targeting that problem. While the legislation will require Rajya Sabha's approval to become law, Aadhaar linkage is considered a vital element in the plan.
Sources told the daily that the Commission will be sending its suggestion to the Law Ministry shortly.
With PTI inputs
(Edited by Sushmita Agarwal)