A bill to link electoral rolls with the Aadhaar ecosystem to weed out duplication was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Monday.
Introducing The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021, Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju said the legislation will end bogus voting in the country and make the electoral process more credible.
Dismissing the apprehensions of the opposition on the bill as "baseless", the minister said opposition members were "misinterpreting" the Supreme Court judgement on personal liberty. "The opposition has not understood the objectives of the bill. This will make the election process more credible," he said.
The minister said the government is attempting to stop bogus voting and that is why the House should support the bill. "The bill fully qualifies the Supreme Court judgement," he said. However, the opposition parties led by Congress opposed the bill, saying it will infringe on the fundamental rights of citizens.
Opposing the bill, Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury demanded that the bill must be sent to the standing committee concerned for scrutiny. He claimed that the bill will curb the people's personal liberty.
"We don't have the data protection laws. You can't bulldoze such a bill on people," he said. Chowdhury's party colleague Manish Tewari said voting is a legal right and it is beyond the legislative competence of the Aadhaar Act to be linked with the electoral laws.
Tiwari also claimed that the bill violates the Supreme Court judgement on Justice (retd) K S Puttaswamy case.
On August 24, 2017, a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court delivered a unanimous verdict in the Justice (retd) K S Puttaswamy case affirming that the Constitution guarantees to each individual a fundamental right to privacy.
AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi alleged that the bill will suppress people's right to exercise franchise freely. Opposing the bill, Trinamool Congress member Saugata Roy said the bill goes against the apex court judgement.
BSP's Ritesh Pandey opposed the bill and said that it will curb the rights of the SCs and STs in exercising the franchise freely. RSP's N K Premchandran said the right to privacy is a fundamental right and linking Aadhaar with the election process will infringe on the rights of the citizens.
Congress member Shashi Tharoor said Aadhaar is meant for the residents of India and all residents are not Indians. "By linking the Aadhaar with the electoral process, we are potentially giving the voting rights to non-citizens," he said.
Rajendra Agarwal, who was in the chair, accepted the introduction of the bill after taking voice votes. As opposition protests over various issues, including on the Lakhimpur Kheri incident, continued, Agarwal adjourned the House till 2 pm.
Earlier, when the House met after the weekend break at 11 am, opposition Congress, DMK and TMC members stormed into the Well and began protesting, displaying placards.
Congress and the TMC members were demanding the sacking of the Union Minister for Home Affairs Ajay Mishra in connection with the Lakhimpur Kheri violence as his son Ashish Mishra is one of the accused arrested in the case.
The DMK members protested against the arrest of 55 Tamil Nadu fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy. They wanted to raise the issue in the House. Amid slogan shouting by the protesting members of Congress, DMK and TMC, during the Question Hour, the members of NCP, Shiv Sena, BSP and IUML stood near their respective seats in solidarity.
Amid Opposition protests, the House took up several questions. Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, meanwhile, urged the members to maintain the decorum of the House and go back to their seats.
"During the Question Hour, there were important issues and questions. Solutions for important issues and problems will come only if you go back to your seats. T R Baalu Ji (DMK leader), (while) you want to raise important issues in the house, your members come into well," the Speaker said.
"Develop a good tradition in the House. people have sent you here to raise their questions, their problems....Is this behaviour right? please go back to your seats, take your seats. I will give your adequate time and opportunity permission to speak on important issues," he said.
As the members refused to relent, the Speaker adjourned the House till noon. Earlier in the morning, the House paid tributes to three former members who passed away recently. The members along with the Speaker stood in silence for a brief while as a mark of respect to the departed souls.
The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill also seeks to allow the electoral registration officers to ask for Aadhaar numbers from "persons already included in the electoral roll for the purposes of authentication of entries in the electoral roll, and to identify registration of the name of the same person in the electoral roll of more than one constituency or more than once in the same constituency".
At the same time, the amendment bill makes it clear that "no application for inclusion of name in the electoral roll shall be denied and no entries in the electoral roll shall be deleted for the inability of an individual to furnish or intimate Aadhaar number due to such sufficient cause as may be prescribed".
Such people will be allowed to furnish other documents as may be prescribed. According to the bill circulated to Lok Sabha members ahead of its introduction, various sections of the Representation of the People Act, 1950 and 1951 will be amended.
The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the bill states that Section 23 of the RP Act, 1950 will be amended to allow linking of electoral roll data with the Aadhaar ecosystem "to curb the menace of multiple enrolments of the same person in different places".
Amendment to section 14 of the RP Act, 1950 will allow having four "qualifying" dates for eligible people to register as voters.
(With inputs from PTI)