The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021, was passed in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, 21 December, a day after the contentious bill was passed in the Lok Sabha amid clamorous protests by the Opposition MPs.
The bill, which seeks to amend the Representation of the People Act, provides for the linking of voter IDs with Aadhaar on a voluntary basis, "for the purposes of authentication of entries in electoral roll."
Opposition members, who have contested the bill, have insisted that the legislation will infringe upon the privacy of the voters and potentially give voting privileges to non-citizens.
What does the bill propose to do? What will be its benefits? What are the Opposition's concerns? Here's what we know.
What Does the Bill Propose?
The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021 proposes that the electoral registration officers can ask for people’s Aadhaar number trying to register as voters in order to establish their identity.
"The electoral registration officer may for the purpose of establishing the identity of any person require that such person may furnish the Aadhaar number given by the Unique Identification Authority of India as per the provisions of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016."The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021
The bill will also allow 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."
The proposed bill will also allow the youth to enrol as voters on four different dates – the 1st day of January, the 1st day of April, the 1st day of July and the 1st day of October – every year.
As per the current provision, only those turning 18 years of age (or higher) on or before 1 January of the year are allowed to register as voters in that year.
Further, the electoral reforms bill intends to make the voting law gender-neutral for service voters. Presently, while an army man’s wife is entitled to be enrolled as a service voter, a woman army officer’s husband is not.
What Will Be the Benefits of the Bill?
The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021 seeks to prevent multiple enrolments of the same individual, thereby sieving out fake voters.
"The Election Commission of India has proposed to link the electoral roll with the Aadhaar ecosystem with a view to curbing the menace of multiple enrolment of the same person at difference places. The matter is under consideration of the Government," the Law Ministry had informed the Lok Sabha in August 2021.
Further, the provision for multiple cut-off dates for registration is expected to lead to an increased enrolment of eligible voters.
"The bill proposes to replace the word 'wife' with 'spouse' to make the act (Representation of the People Act of 1951) gender-neutral. It'll also expand the limits of the election premises acquisition," said Union Minister Kiren Rijiju, as per news agency ANI.
Rijiju said on Tuesday:
"The Bill has been discussed in detail with the Election Commission and Law Ministry, keeping the pros/cons and Parliamentary Standing Committee's recommendation in mind. Everyone's supporting it, only 1-2 people want to make it a controversial issue."
Why Has the Opposition Protested Against the Bill?
The Opposition has contended that allowing the linkage of Aadhaar card to the voter ID would enable non-Indian citizens to cast votes in the elections.
Declaring his opposition to the bill, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor had said in the Lok Sabha,
"Aadhaar is only meant to be proof of residence, it's not a proof of citizenship. If you're in a position asking Aadhaar for voters, all you're getting is a document that reflects residence, not citizenship. You're potentially giving the vote to non-citizens."
Meanwhile, Leader of Congress in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, had recommended for the bill to be sent to the Parliamentary Standing Committee. He had remarked that the bill has a lot of legal drawbacks.
“It is against the Supreme Court verdict and one which violates our privacy. This might strip off lakhs of people of their electoral rights,” he had added.
Further, All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) MP Asaduddin Owaisi had said that the bill will allow the government to "profile and disenfranchise" voters.
"The Bill is outside the legislative competence of the House as it violates the limits on legislation set by the Supreme Court in its judgment. The linking of voter IDs and AADHAAR violates the fundamental right to privacy as defined by Supreme Court in its judgment. The House is not competent to enact a law that violates the fundamental rights of citizens," he had said in a notice submitted in the Lok Sabha.
Further opposing the bill, Owaisi said on Tuesday:
"It's against Puttaswamy's judgment. Government doesn't have legislative competence to make such laws. Aadhaar has 1.5 percent more mistakes than the voter list. This law is against Universal suffrage."
The bill was passed by a voice vote amid vehement protests from the Opposition.