The Supreme Court has recorded an undertaking from the Election Commission that the production of Aadhaar cards is not mandatory for voter registration, assuaging fears that many voters’ names might be deleted for failing to Aadhaar-seed their voter I-card.
Senior advocate Sukumar Pattjoshi and the poll panel's standing counsel, Amit Sharma, gave the undertaking during the hearing of a petition from Telangana Congress leader G. Niranjan, who contended that a mandatory requirement for Aadhaar-linking of voter cards violated the right to privacy.
“Mr Sukumar Pattjoshi, senior counsel appearing on behalf of the Election Commission of India, with Mr Amit Sharma, counsel, states nearly 66,23,00,000 Aadhaar numbers have already been uploaded in the process of finalising electoral rolls,” a bench headed by CJI D.Y. Chandrachud said in a recent order.
“Mr Pattjoshi further states that the submission of the Aadhaar number is not mandatory under Rule 26B of the Registration of Electors (Amendment) Rules 2022 and hence the Election Commission is looking into issuing appropriate clarificatory changes in the forms...," the bench added.
The Supreme Court bench included Justices J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Mishra.
A government notification had declared April 1, 2023, “as the date on or before which every person whose name is included in the electoral roll may intimate his Aadhaar number....”
The petition, filed through advocate Karnam Sravan Kumar, said that forcing voters to submit their Aadhaar numbers violated Articles 14 (equality) and 21 (life and personal liberty, including privacy) of the Constitution.
It also violated, the petition said, a nine-judge constitutional bench judgment in Justice K.S. Puttaswamy vs Union of India (2017) that said that Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory unless the intended beneficiaries were receiving some subsidy or direct benefits from the government.
There is also the possibility of misuse of the personal data of voters who submit their Aadhaar numbers, the petition argued. Besides, the requirement of voter authentication through Aadhaar might “lead to the deletion of a large number of voters across the country”.
The petition highlighted that Form 6, the application form for new voters, had no column seeking the applicant’s consent to providing their Aadhaar number. Further, at the end of the form, the applicant had to declare that he or she was aware that making a false declaration was punishable with a jail term of up to one year.