In the National Electoral Roll Purification and Authentication Programme (NERP-AP) held across Telangana in April 2015 to remove duplicate voters, the names of over 30 lakh voters were deleted, response to an RTI query revealed on Monday. The software that was used to implement NERP-AP, involving linking of Aadhaar number with Voter ID, deleted potential duplicate voters without verification, due to which lakhs of voters found their names missing in electoral rolls during the Telangana Assembly election held in December 2018.
The response to the RTI query filed by city-based independent security researcher Srinivas Kodali also revealed that then-chief electoral officer (CEO) Bhanwar Lal had written a letter to the Election Commission of India (ECI) admitting poor progress of the programme in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) area, which comprises 24 of the 119 Assembly constituencies in the state.
In a press conference held on Monday, Swecha, a Hyderabad-based NGO working on free software movement in India, released documents showing lapses on the ECI’s part. In an interview with Firstpost, Swecha’s general secretary Kiran Chandra explains where the NERP-AP went wrong, violation of norms and laws by the ECI, its possible impact on election results and corrective measures that can be taken:
What are your complaints against the ECI?
Kodali’s RTI query revealed that a call from the Telangana chief minister to then CEO Bhanwar Lal to speed up the Aadhaar-Voter ID linking process, especially in GHMC and Nizamabad, was followed by the process to remove all duplicate voters from the Election Commission database. The ECI gave the voter database to the Information Technology department of Telangana. A tender was then issued — open to private players as well — to build software to filter out duplicate voters.
The software contained Aadhaar details along with comprehensive survey details put together by the state of Telangana, including caste, religion, demographic details, migration, bank accounts, ration card number. Using this software, names were removed from the electoral list. However, ECI is a statutory body that is supposed to ensure voting rights for all citizens above the age of 18 years. This raises concerns regarding the criteria used to delete the names during the NERP-AP process.
Not only did the ECI violate its own norms by giving voter details to the IT department, but it also denied certain people their voting rights. Moreover, the ECI lied in court about following the norms in scrutinising the electoral rolls, which amounts to perjury. Now, ECI has issued a nationwide circular saying that this process of removing duplicate voters needs to be followed across the country. Which means that people could be removed from the list owing to factors like caste or religion. This subversion of the democratic process is a matter of embarrassment.
What are your suggestions for the ECI to rectify the situation?
The ECI needs to take corrective action before the election notification comes out and electoral rolls are made. The list of deleted names should be made public and genuine voters should be approached and relevant rectifications should be made immediately.
We have also demanded that the source code and algorithm used in the software to identify and delete duplicate voters be made public.
This is not a systemic problem but a new system created by the ECI. How can the ECI use state surveillance data to decide who votes? The ECI should come out and speak about why it is failing the Constitution and how it will rectify the situation.
Do you think the election results in Telangana could have been different in the absence of this glitch by the ECI?
In Telangana, which has a population of 3.5 crore people and 2.8 crore people voted, 30 lakh people could not vote. That is a big number that could have made an impact.
What course of action is your organistion planning to take to resolve the matter?
Kodali hs filed a petition in the Telangana High Court questioning the transparency of the algorithm used by the EC in December last year. We are waiting for the matter to come up for hearing.
Is there any other method apart from NERP-AP that can be used to filter our duplicate voters?
The problem lies with relying on surveillance data for filtering out duplicate voters, involving the police and the IT department in handling election data and involving private players in developing the software for the same. The ECI can make its own software for this purpose with the required specifications while keeping its algorithm public.
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Updated Date: Feb 25, 2019 19:21:16 IST