The Madras High Court has pulled up the Puducherry BJP unit and the UIDAI over allegations that the party accessed Aadhaar details of voters to send them messages about campaigns ahead of the elections scheduled to be held in the Union Territory.
The HC said that the UIDAI must answer on concerns and allegations that bulk SMSes were sent only to Aadhaar-linked mobile numbers by the BJP in Puducherry to boost political campaigns.
The court was hearing a plea by the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) that the BJP in Puducherry ‘illegally’ accessed Aadhaar data of voters to send them ‘invite links’ to WhatsApp groups at the booth level.
The high court also said that it is a “serious matter” that the privacy of citizens is being breached.
“There is a credible allegation that has been squarely levelled that only mobile phones linked to Aadhaar cards have received the SMS messages. It is squarely for the UIDAI to provide an adequate answer,” the Madras High Court bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Ramamoorthy said, reported by Bar and Bench.
“Apart from the unfair mileage that the political party may have gained, there is the serious matter of privacy of citizens being breached. This huge aspect should not be lost in the politics of the season or the hullaballoo of the attendant campaigning,” the court said.
The Madras High Court also said it cannot accept the Puducherry BJP’s counter argument that the data was collected by party workers during a door-to-door campaign.
The counsel representing the Puducherry unit of the BJP had told the judges that the party did not steal any cellphone data.
The counsel had told the court that the data and phone numbers were collected by its karyakartas (partymen) over a long period and due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it had used innovative methods of sending SMS to voters with a link to join booth-level WhatsApp groups.
The HC said it was up to the UIDAI to answer how the party accessed the details.
"It is not acceptable that such information would have been obtained by Karyakartas as suggested by BJP, Puducherry. The UIDAI is required to answer how details and particulars furnished to it and in confidence by citizens, in the hope that confidentiality would be preserved, may not have been able to respect such confidentiality,” the HC said.
The HC also reminded the Election Commission that it is under a Constitutional mandate to protect the privacy of voters. The court was also informed that the Election Commission is considering whether the BJP in Puducherry has violated the Model Code of Conduct.
"If only to not undermine the faith in the democratic process and to ensure the conduct of free and fair elections, all respondent authorities need to provide answers as sought,” the court said. The court has sought responses from all parties in six weeks.
(The article was first published in The News Minute and has been republished with permission)