A hundred senior retired officers of the All India Services and Central Civil Services have made an appeal to the Election Commission to update the electoral rolls accurately to include vulnerable sections of the society.
Under the aegis of the Constitutional Conduct Group which published two volumes of a public audit of elections earlier this year, 100 former bureaucrats signed the petition to chief election commissioner Sushil Chandra.
The letter calls for greater scrutiny to ensure that religious and caste minority communities, women, Dalits, Adivasis, trans people, urban homeless, persons with disabilities, persons with mental health issues and migrant labourers are included in voter rolls.
The signatories include former foreign secretary Sujatha Singh, retired IAS officers Wajahat Habibullah, Najeeb Jung, G.K. Pillai, K. Sujatha Rao, and Ardhendu Sen, ex-IPS officers Julio Ribeiro, Maxwell Pereira¸ F.T.R. Colaso, Vappala Balachandran and Amitabh Mathur and Punjab’s former principal chief conservator of forests H. S. Gujral. It also includes top former Research and Analysis Service officers Anand Arni and Rana Banerji, Chennai’s former chief commissioner of income tax, A. Selvaraj, and G. Sankaran, former president of the Customs, Excise and Gold (Control) Appellate Tribunal.
The letter lists five points of action — ensuring registration of all eligible voters, foolproof mechanism for verification by voter of inclusion of name in relevant part of electoral rolls, deletion of duplicate names and names of voters who have moved or died, using Aadhaar number to validate voter IDs constitutes a gross violation of the citizens’ right to privacy and ensuring error-free, verifiable electoral rolls.
The signatories said: “In particular, we wish to stress the need for the ECI to make special rules for the urban homeless and put in place special measures for differently-abled persons. The normal procedures for registration and verification that apply before a name is included in the electoral lists create virtually unsurpassable barriers for the urban homeless. Typically, homeless women and men have no documents that prove their identity or address. For these groups (members of which have no homes), special rules that permit either self-verification, or verification by any individual whose name exists in the electoral lists, are needed. Since they have no fixed address, we propose that the address of the nearest homeless shelter where they sleep at night, or the address of an NGO that works with homeless populations in the city, should suffice for purposes of the electoral list.”
In addition to the existing online system, they recommended that the latest official master roll should be displayed on a public online bulletin board, as well as another bulletin board of transaction records, which enables every voter given a receipt for application for enrolment, update or deletion to search for the application process status.
They said: “There is need to improve the data entry software, with built-in warnings when duplicate entries are being made and verification by the Electoral Registration Officer where such warnings are ignored by lower staff.”
The letter adds: “The Telangana CEO (chief electoral officer) reported in September 2018 that 2.2 million people were excluded from the electoral rolls after Aadhaar-based ‘verification’ was carried out in 2015, thus depriving them of the right to vote in the general elections to the Telangana Legislative Assembly….”
Although allegations have often arisen in recent polls of names missing from voter lists, no former election commissioner signed the memo.