Telangana polls: 2.2 million voters could not cast their ballots; citizens heap criticism on govt via social media
On 7 December, reports poured in from Telangana of voters who arrived at their respective polling stations to ultimately not find their names on the voters' list.
The weekend following polling day in Telangana, parties were already offering and rejecting alliances; exit polls largely predicting a sweep for the incumbent Telangana Rashtra Samithi, some leaning towards a hung verdict. But what none of the political leaders were talking about was the apparent large-scale deletion of voters from the electoral rolls.
According to activists, at least 8 percent, or 22 lakhs, of the 2.8 crore voters in the state missed out on exercising their franchise due to a faulty voter deletion exercise way back in 2015. On Twitter and other social media platforms, users expressed their discontent with #WhereisMyVote, led by Olympic badminton player, Jwala Gutta.
On 7 December, reports poured in, especially from Hyderabad, of voters who arrived at their respective polling stations to ultimately not find their names on the voters' list. Bhanu Murthy from Nampally said while he got his voting slip, his wife, who has her Electoral Photo ID Card, was unable to vote. They had tried earlier at another polling booth nearby before returning home disappointed.
“Two anganwadi workers came home and had given the original Electoral Photo ID Card for my wife and a voting slip for me. First, we had gone to Tulsi school, where we were told to come here. Here I have a vote, but my wife doesn’t. We don’t understand why we have to go to so many places to cast our votes. Why is this government doing this?,” said Murthy.
Mr Prasad Mandala said that despite the government making a sincere effort to educate people this time by conducting mock sessions in various constituencies, he saw many people in his polling station at St Anne’s school in Nampally going back without casting their vote after not being able to find their names. Sharada Sanghi, a 78-year-old voter who had come to that booth wasn’t able to vote as she didn’t get the voter’s slip despite having voted here many times in the past.
Protests had broken out in front of the Mandal Revenue Office in Kamareddy town on polling day. “Almost 10-20 percent of the votes are missing, and it is not a small thing to elect a candidate when the number is so large. We demand a remedy for this and we will fight to get back our right to vote,” said a youth who was one among many who were protesting in front of the MRO office in Kamareddy town on polling day.
In Pitlam village from the same district, an enraged voter said, "I have all the documents necessary to vote. Why don't I get my right to vote? Am I dead? I demand my right." In March 2015, the Election Commission of India undertook the National Electoral Roll Purification and Authentication Programme (NERPAP) that would link Aadhaar with Electoral Photo ID Cards to identify and delete bogus and duplicate voters. The algorithm used had a failure rate as high as 93 percent, as revealed during the pilot phase in Bihar the same year.
Within five months, the Supreme Court had ordered that Aadhaar can’t be used for anything other than the Public Distribution System (PDS). But by then, 31 crore IDs were already linked; the Telangana State Election Commission had deleted 27 lakh voters from the rolls already, according to a report by The News Minute, disproportionately affecting voters in the constituencies under Greater Hyderabad. Reportedly, 98 percent of the NERPAP was completed in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Over 12 lakh new voters were added to the electoral rolls this time, but it is not clear how many of them are first-time voters and how many are those who reapplied after their names had been deleted.
The same report also says the follow-up to deletion was not done as per ECI norms, which state that when an Electoral Registration Officer intends to delete a voter, there must be “a reasonable opportunity to the voter who is being deleted by sending notices to the voter along with form-6, a document meant to reapply for a voter ID”.
These notices are meant to be delivered by booth level officers who are also supposed to visit the voter if they decide to reapply, and collect the required forms. The report quotes a senior Congress leader claiming that he stumbled on to to thousands of undelivered notices in just one ward office of the Greater Hyderabad Metropolitan Corporation.
The Chief Electoral Officer called a press conference on Friday evening to address these concerns. “It was a major mistake. I apologise to the people personally... There has been an apparent mistake,” he said Kumar. He added that the EC would look into the matter and take up revision of the records for the Lok Sabha elections next year, saying that notices would be sent to all the people whose names are deleted from the electoral rolls.
"We have 20 votes in our family, but this time, we have got only two votes. We have voted many times in the past in one of the three polling booths nearby, but this time we didn’t find our names in any of the booths. I have been trying to find my name from 8'o clock in the morning but couldn't vote," said a frustrated Paramesh after close of polling, as he held his voting slip at Viveka Vardhini University polling station in Hyderabad's Goshamahal constituency.
Prasanna S, a lawyer who has been pursuing cases of voter deletions through Aadhaar linkage, tweeted on Saturday that it was “clear that the process that the Election Commission had used to purge voters from the electoral rolls is grossly flawed and is perceived to have no integrity whatsoever”.
He said the Election Commission should publish the constituency-wise deletion numbers before the announcement of final results on 11 December for the public to be able to judge whether the election outcome has been “materially” affected. According to him, comparing the number of purges in a constituency and the winning margin will be able to clearly establish if a case can be made out for challenging the election at that constituency under Section 100(1)(d) of the Representation of People Act, 1951.
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