How Did EC Allow Large-Scale Voter-Deletions in Delhi?
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has recently made a representation to the Election Commission of India about large scale deletion of voters in Delhi.
AAP party chief Arvind Kejriwal who has made the representation, has asked for a list of deleted voters to be published on the Election Commission website and further a field verification to be carried out in the presence of representatives from all parties. The EC has denied the large-scale deletions being carried out. The Commission has also denied similar complaints regarding duplicate voters and deletions in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana.
Not a Clever ‘Lie’
It is surprising that the Election Commission is denying there have been large scale deletions considering their own website published this list of voters who have been deleted suo motu.
According to the Handbook for Electoral Registrations Officers from 2008, the ERO is allowed to suo motu delete voters under Rule 21A and 22 of The Registration of Electoral Rules 1960. But suo motu deletions are usually done for voters who have died, and there are death certificates to delete the voters.
Delhi in 2015 does not seem to be the first time suo motu deletions have been carried out. A report from The Hindu says 2.8 lakh voters have been deleted suo motu in West Bengal during 2011 using a latest de-duplication software.
Scale of Voter Deletions in Delhi an Issue
The Election Commission manual on electoral roll management system offers insights on how the commission uses information technology (IT) to manage voters. The manual clearly shows how the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) has the power to suo motu delete voters. The ERO is a quasi judicial authority and his say on deletions of voter is final, but he has to give a reasonable notice to the citizen and also hold a public hearing to listen to any contestations. While in practice whether fair opportunity is being provided to hear a citizen is not always clear.
Even with the law allowing suo motu deletions, the scale of voter deletions in Delhi is a problem, considering over 10 lakh voters who were deleted and 13 lakhs who were added, comprise more than 10 percent of voters in Delhi during 2015.
A look at Central Information Commission order CIC/SA/C/2015/000157 Sumit Vs. Chief Election Officer shows there were indeed people who have been unable to vote in 2015 and have filed Right to Information (RTI) application with the Election Commission, asking for details on how the names have been deleted off rolls. The proof of sufficient notice being issued to the appellant has been provided to the Information Commissioner on a subsequent hearing where the order was overturned.
Large-Scale Deletions Need CEC’s Nod
Large-scale deletions, whether suo motu or otherwise, can’t be done without the knowledge and special permission of the Chief Election Commissioner. An RTI filed with the Election Commission shows the State Election Commission of Bihar has been asking permission to delete voters suo motu before the Bihar elections.
The Election Commission has given the permission to delete the voter suo motu but strictly reminding to follow the procedures of issuing notices and asserting the reason of deletions.
Even with the information of deleted voters on the Election Commission website, the statistics published by the Commission show there was no decrease of voters in Delhi. Delhi had a increase of voters from 1.2 crores to 1.38 crores over 5 years. While the Commission’s documents indicate large scale deletions of voters in poll-bound Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The inconsistency of non-standardised publication of information by the Election Commission is creating doubts on the intentions of suo motu deletions, with Kejriwal alleging the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and BJP has directed the commission to delete a certain group of voters.
Desperate Need for Transparency
In the other poll -bound states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the Congress party has been alleging disturbances in voter lists with many duplications being found. The Election Commission has denied there are any duplicates and even fought the matter when leaders from Congress approached the Supreme Court in Kamal Nath Vs Election Commission of India. The Supreme Court, while siding with the Election Commission, has allowed them to set the standards of transparency in not publishing voter rolls in machine-readable formats.
What is happening with voter deletion is not entirely clear. The Election Commission needs to step in and makes things more transparent. The longer the Commission denies it has no knowledge of the matter and claims it is enquiring, the larger the threat to democracy.
(Srinivas Kodali is a independent researcher working on the intersection of cities, data and the internet. He volunteers with internet communities in India. He tweets at @digitaldutta. This is an opinion piece. Views expressed in the article are that of the author’s own. The Quint does not advocate nor is responsible for them.)