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'Bengaluru NGO Illegally Gathered Voter Data Before Karnataka Polls': Report

Reportedly, the NGO was allowed to gather data as per an order issued by the BBMP.

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A Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) gathered voter data of thousands of persons in Bengaluru illegally, claimed a report by The News Minute (TNM) and a Kannada publication, Pratidhvani. Karnataka is expected to hold its Assembly polls in 2023.

After the report appeared, the Congress in Karnataka accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of being "responsible" for the alleged data theft. "The shocking exposé has revealed that those sitting in the citadels of power, including Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, are overtly and covertly responsible for theft of voter data, fraud, and impersonation through brazen misdemeanors,” read a press release by the Congress party issued on Thursday, 17 November.

According to the report, field agents of the NGO, which was given a contract by the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) to ‘create awareness’ about voter rights and revision of electoral rolls, posed as government officials and collected personal information from Bengaluru voters.

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Report Claims Massive Data Theft

According to the report, the BBMP had given permission to the NGO – Chilume Educational Cultural and Rural Development Institute – to conduct SVEEP (Systematic Voters Education and Electoral Participation), a drive by the Election Commission to revise the electoral rolls ahead of the Karnataka Assembly polls.

However, as per the report, misusing the order which accorded such permission, fake ID cards were issued to hundreds of field agents, identifying them as Booth Level Officers (BLO) of the BBMP.

The report claimed, these agents asked voters to share personal information such as:

  • Caste

  • Mother tongue

  • Marital status

  • Age

  • Gender

  • Employment

  • Education details

  • Aadhaar number

  • Phone number

  • Address

  • Voter ID number

  • Email address

While the BBMP cancelled the order, the data which was gathered by the agents was not retrieved from the NGO, the report claimed.

Report Claims NGO Did Other Poll Related Work

According to the report, Chilume approached the BBMP stating their wish to offer free voluntary service for SVEEP. On 29 January 2022, the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) of the Mahadevapura Assembly constituency allegedly granted Chilume permission to assist the BBMP in the revision of electoral rolls, subject to a series of conditions.

One of the conditions was that Chilume “should not be associated with any political organisation,” the report stated. However, as per the report, people behind the NGO were found to also run companies that manage election campaigns. The report claimed:

  • Chilume was registered in July 2013 by five individuals, including Krishnappa Ravikumar.

  • In December 2017, Ravikumar and two others started a private company called DAP Hombale.

  • In January 2018, the three directors registered another company called Chilume Enterprises Pvt Ltd – which specialises in election management.

  • The group also operated a voter survey app – 'Digital Sameeksha'

It's on this app that Chilume’s workers reportedly uploaded voters’ personal information.

As per the report, on 20 August, the permission to Chilume was expanded to include all 28 Assembly constituencies within the BBMP limits. The order was issued by the BBMP Commissioner, who is also the District Election Officer.

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Report Claims NGO Did Not Pay Its Own Workers

As per the report, the field workers of the NGO were promised salaries ranging between Rs 15,000 and Rs 25,000.

Several of these workers allegedly quit their jobs over unpaid wages and complained of horrible working conditions. 

As per the report, a complaint was also registered against Chilume by another NGO, Samanvaya Trust. Sumangala, president of Samanvaya Trust, filed a complaint with the BBMP and the Election Commission, on 20 September, claiming that her workers had not been paid by Chilume.

The BBMP cancelled its permission to Chilume based on this complaint.

The report quotes Ravikumar Krishnappa of Chilume as having that because of an amendment in the law, private agencies were permitted to collect voter data.

He even claimed that his NGO has been carrying out similar data collection exercises since 2014.

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What Has the Opposition Said?

After the report was published, the Congress party lashed out at Basavaraj Bommai's government on Thursday, 17 November and asked for his resignation since the BBMP is his portfolio.

The party has further demanded a First Information Report (FIR) to be registered against CM Basvaraj Bommai and other BBMP officials. The Congress has also alleged that CN Ashwath Narayan, Karnataka Minister, was present at a party organised by the NGO founder Krishnappa Ravikumar.

The Congress stated:

"Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, BJP government and its officials, BBMP, and the election authority are together partners in crime in trampling democracy with the evil design of snatching voting rights from the innocent Bengalureans."

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