Hindustan Times
New Delhi

The Election Commission of India last week met law minister Kiren Rijiju regarding a host of electoral reforms, including the power to delist inactive political parties and linking Aadhaar to voter identity cards, people familiar with the matter said.

“The law minister was briefed on several of the reforms that are pending with the ministry,” one such person said on the condition of anonymity. “Once the amendments are drafted, they will hopefully be introduced in the winter session of Parliament.

The power to take action against political parties that have not contested elections for decades but are still enjoying tax exemptions on donations was discussed as well.

HT sent the law ministry a detailed questionnaire but did not receive a response.The poll watchdog has the mandate to register a political party but no power under electoral law to deregister any party.

An EC official familiar with the matter said that the voluntary linking of Aadhaar data was agreed upon with the government, while the power to delist the political parties remains a point still to be discussed.

In 1999, the Commission put 200 parties on notice as they had not contested any polls. At present, India has over 2,700 political parties, but only seven are recognised at the national level and 50 at the state-level. A recognised national party has to poll 6% of valid votes in any four or more states and in addition win four Lok Sabha seats.

According to the Association of Democratic Reforms, the number of registered unrecognised parties has doubled in the last decades. The number rose from 1,112 IN 2010 to 2,301 in 2019.

The commission, composed of chief election commissioner Sushil Chandra and election commissioners Rajiv Kumar and Anup Chandra Pandey, been pushing for the reforms with the CEC writing to the ministry in May to “expedite them”.

Election Commission of India is pushing for at least five key electoral reforms. including making paid news an electoral offence, linking Aadhaar numbers to the electoral roll , and increasing the punishment for filing a false affidavit (to two years of imprisonment), and has written to the government in this regard, HT reported on June 8.There are nearly 40 proposals pending with the ministry.

Elections in the states of Goa, Manipur, Uttarakhand, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh are due early next year.

ECI has been considering a wide range of electoral reforms to usher in digitisation, removing duplication of voters and enabling remote voting for non-resident Indians (NRIs), even migrant workers within the country. The commission on May 17, sent a reminder to then law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to revisit at least the five key reforms.

ECI has proposed that the voters who turn 18 should be able to register more than just once in a year. At present, only those who turn 18 as of January 1 are eligible to register as voters. ECI also wants to get tough on false affidavits. At present, candidates who furnish false information can be punished with up to six months of imprisonment. The Commission has suggested increasing this to two years.

Documents reviewed by HT show that the commission has also pitched the linking of Aadhaar data to the electoral roll, part of its plan to eliminate duplication of voter ID cards.

According to the person mentioned above, the commission wrote to the law ministry last month to approve the voluntary linking of Aadhaar data to voter ID cards by means of a gazette notification. “The Election Commission proposes verification of elector using Aadhaar Authentication and voluntary seeding of Aadhaar for providing speedy services to voters like registration of new voters, change of address, downloading voter slips etc,” the commission said in a letter to the ministry. “The proposed Aadhaar authentication/seeding will be optional for those electors who want to use Aadhaar for faster delivery of services.”

It adds the ministry of electronics and information technology is a gazette notification published on August 5, 2020, allows for the use of Aadhaar by the central government in the interest of good governance. “It is therefore requested that the proposal for voluntary authentication/seeding of Aadhaar from UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India), for providing faster electoral service, may be agreed to,” the letter said.

A second person familiar with the matter said that the proposal is with the UIDAI and could be implemented within three months once approval is given. “The main consideration will be to create a data vault to protect the information,” the person said on the condition of anonymity. “The process normally takes within three to six months to be completed.”

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