The Rajya Sabha on Tuesday passed a Bill which seeks to link Aadhaar with voter identity cards by a voice vote amid a walkout by Opposition MPs, PTI reported. The Lok Sabha had passed the Bill on Monday even as several Opposition leaders had criticised the proposed law.

The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021, proposes to allow electoral registration officers to seek Aadhaar numbers of people who want to register as voters to establish their identity.

Members of the Opposition parties raised objections as Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha Harivansh did not allow a division of votes on the Bill. They also demanded that the Bill should be sent to a Select Committee of Parliament for further consideration.

MPs of the Congress, the Trinamool Congress, Left parties, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Nationalist Congress Party walked out from the House as their demands were not met.

The Bill was approved by the Rajya Sabha after members of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Janata Dal (United), YSR Congress party, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, and Biju Janata Dal supported it, PTI reported.

They said it will help in eradicating duplicate and fake votes from the electoral rolls. But, activists have warned about the dangers of using Aadhaar as a way of weeding out names from voter lists considering the huge mismatch in the two databases.

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Discussion on the Bill in Rajya Sabha

The Upper House took up the Bill for debate at 2 pm on Monday and it was passed at 3.15 pm by a voice vote, according to Live Law.

Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien accused Harivansh of “doing the same thing you did on farmers bill”. The three contentious farm laws, which have now been repealed, were also passed in the Rajya Sabha through a voice vote. Harivansh was in the Chair at that time too.

A voice vote involves the chairman putting a question to the house and then asking members to put forward their opinion in the forms of ayes (yes) or noes. Based on a rough measure of which side was louder, the speaker decides if the motion was passed or fell through. On the other hand, a division involves actual voting by the MPs in favour or against a Bill.

Other Opposition MPs also criticised the deputy chairman for not allowing a division.

While protesting in the Well of the House, Congress MP and Leader of the Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge said: “You [Harivansh] announce division, members will go back to their seats.”

To this, the deputy chairman said that there was no tradition to seek division of votes while protesting in the Well. “Let the country see, you do not want division,” Harivansh told Kharge, according to The Hindu.

Congress MP Jairam Ramesh also compared the passing of the Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021, to the way the farm laws had been cleared.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP V Sivadasan had moved an amendment to send the Bill to Select Committee. But, the deputy chairman rejected the amendment via another voice vote.

During discussion on the Bill, Samajwadi Party MP Ram Gopal Yadav opposed the Bill saying that poor people who do not have Aadhaar will be excluded from its ambit. Congress MP Ami Yagnik contended that the Bill was in violation of the right to privacy guaranteed by the Constitution and will lead to disenfranchisment of many voters, The Hindu reported.

Sujit Kumar of the Biju Janata Dal supported the Bill, but suggested some amendments. He said the linkage of Aadhaar and voter IDs would allow “profiling and disenfranchisement of voters on the margins of society”, Live Law reported. He also said that the provision to link the two might allow “targeted political advertisement”.

“If the purpose is to establish identity, the Aadhaar number can be linked to voter ID...Why link the entire Aadhaar database?” Kumar asked.

However, Law Minister Kiren Rijiju said that the Bill would help in ending bogus voting in the country and make the electoral process credible.

“There is no basis of your opposition to the Bill,” he told the protesting MPs. “The Election Commission and the government have held many meetings and the Election Commission’s biggest concern is that the same person has [their] names in multiple electoral rolls and there is no other system to check this.”

Rijiju claimed that only those who take advantage of “fake voting” would oppose the Bill.

Contentions about linking of Aadhaar and voter IDs

Even as the government has insisted that the linking would be voluntary, a particular clause in the Bill has raised concerns among Opposition leaders, lawyers and privacy rights activists.

The text of the Bill says that “no application for inclusion of name in the electoral roll shall be denied and no entries in the electoral roll shall be deleted for inability of an individual to furnish or intimate Aadhaar number...”

However, this provision had been qualified with the phrase “due to such sufficient cause as may be prescribed”.

Those opposed to the Bill have pointed out that the phrase gives the power to the Union government to stipulate the “sufficient cause” for which a person will be exempted from producing their Aadhaar. These individuals could be allowed to produce an alternative document that may be prescribed later by the central government.