The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, which aims to implement long-pending electoral reforms including linking Aadhaar with the voter ID card, was passed in the Rajya Sabha amid a walkout by the Opposition on Tuesday. The Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on Monday.
Besides linking electoral roll to Aadhaar, the proposed legislation seeks to make the statutes gender neutral by substituting the term ‘wife’ with ‘spouse’ to allow husbands of service voters to cast their vote from the place where their wives are posted. It also seeks to provide four qualifying dates—January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1—in a year for registration of voters, instead of a single qualifying date—January 1.
Earlier in the day, Rajya Sabha proceedings were adjourned till post-lunch session without transacting any business after opposition parties objected to the allocation of time for passage of the Election Laws (Amendment) Bill without them being part of the Business Advisory Committee (BAC) meeting.
Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu adjourned the proceedings of the House till 2 pm as Leader of Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge raised objection to BAC allocating three hours for passage of the Bill. Soon after the listed official papers were laid on the table, Naidu said the BAC, in its meeting on December 20, allocated time for government legislative business. This included three hours for discussion and passage of the electoral bill.
While he was reading out the decision, opposition members from the Congress, the TMC and other parties questioned how the BAC could allocate time when they did not attend the meeting.
Besides the government, leaders of major opposition parties are represented at the BAC. The BAC decides on the time for discussions in the House.
“It is Business Advisory Committee, whoever attends it, attends it. Ok, you (opposition parties) have boycotted it… you have got a right to boycott,” Naidu said.
The Chairman then went on to say that he had not admitted notices under rule 267, saying “let the House transact the business so that we can take up all these”.
The Congress and other opposition parties had given notices under rule 267 on the Lakhimpur killings. The rule calls for setting aside the business of the day to take up the issue being raised.
On Monday, opposing the introduction of the Bill, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury had said, “I do oppose the introduction of the Bill under The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021 and simultaneously demanding that the legislative document should be referred to the concerned standing committee for further scrutiny given the fact that this is an infringement on the fundamental right of privacy as enunciated by the Supreme Court. It will lead to mass disenfranchisement. That’s why we are demanding that this Bill should be referred to the standing committee,” he said.
Another Congress member Manish Tewari said that the Bill is “beyond” the legislative “competence” of the government. This will cause great harm to the democracy of India, he said.
Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju, who introduced the Bill, had said, “There is also a provision to link Aadhaar with the voter ID card. It is voluntary. It is not compulsory or mandatory.” Slamming the Opposition parties, he said they have “either not read the Bill or they are opposing deliberately”.
Rejecting the Opposition demand for sending the Bill to the standing committee, Rijiju quoted the 105th report of the Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personal, Public Grievances and Law and Justice.
“The committee is of the view that linking Aadhaar with electoral rolls will purify electoral rolls and will consequently reduce electoral malpractices. Accordingly, the committee has directed that the relevant law in this regard should be amended at the earliest and action taken is required to be forwarded to the committee,” he said.
He said the Bill was brought to comply with the Supreme Court judgment which had suggested laws to define permissible invasion of privacy.
Rijiju rejected the Opposition argument that linking voter identity to Aadhaar would violate the fundamental rights of a citizen. He said the amendment Bill is to stop bogus voting and fraudulent votes. He maintained that Opposition MPs had misinterpreted the Supreme Court judgment.