The Congress on Thursday filed a police complaint against Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, Bengaluru civic body Commissioner Tushar Giri Nath and other officials after a news report showed that a non-governmental organisation allegedly collected voter data by impersonating as government officers, reported ANI.
The NGO issued fake identification cards to its field agents after the civic body asked it to carry out a voter awareness drive, according to an investigative report by news websites The News Minute and Pratidhvani.
At a press conference on Thursday, Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala demanded Bommai’s resignation and an investigation under the supervision of Karnataka High Court chief justice, reported Deccan Herald.
“Shocking expose reveals that those in citadels of power, including Karnataka CM, are responsible for theft of voter data, fraud and impersonation,” alleged Surjewala. “CM Bommai, his officials, government officers, BBMP [Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike] people and Election authority in Karnataka, they are partners in crime in trampling democracy.”
Bommai has refuted the allegations, reported NDTV.
The investigation carried out by Karnataka-based news websites The News Minute and Pratidhvani found that an NGO, Chilume Educational Cultural and Rural Development Institute, was given permission by civic body Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike to conduct a voter awareness drive to revise electoral rolls ahead of the Karnataka Assembly polls.
For carrying out the task, the NGO, which is linked to an election management company, issued fake identification cards for its field agents who impersonated as booth level officers of the Bengaluru civic body, according to The News Minute.
The NGO workers then collected personal information from voters such as their caste, mother tongue, marital status, age, gender, employment and education details, Aadhaar Card number, phone number, address, Voter ID number and email address, the news report said. The workers also asked the voters for information about the performance of their elected representatives.
The News Minute said that after journalists began covering the incident, the civic body cancelled the permission given to the NGO. The news website, however, alleged that the civic body officials neither explained the reasons for cancelling the permission, nor retrieved the alleged stolen data from the not-for-profit body.
NGO linked to election management firm
The investigation also showed that in 2018, three directors of the NGO had registered another firm named Chilume Enterprises Private Limited, which is an event and election management company.
The company’s website says it provides services such as “electronic voting machine and counting hall preparation, CCTV installation, webcasting and check-post preparation”. A voter survey app called Digital Sameeksha is also run from the same address as firm’s parent company, Chilume Trust, The News Minute reported.
Notably, the order for the permission to conduct the survey, first granted by the electoral registration officer of the Mahadevapura Assembly constituency, clarifies that Chilume Enterprises should not be associated with any political organisation.
The News Minute claimed that officials of the NGO also run companies that manage election campaigns for political parties.
The three directors of the firm had established another company in December 2017 called DAP Hombale, which has been allegedly linked to Karnataka Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party MLA CN Ashwath Narayan, the Congress has alleged, reported Deccan Herald.
After receiving permission from the Mahadevapura Assembly constituency, the company was allowed to cover all 28 Assembly constituencies under the civic body without any background check, The News Minute reported.
Voters’ data uploaded to private survey app
One of the field agents employed by the NGO told The News Minute that he and other workers uploaded the information collected from the voters to the Digital Sameeksha app.
“We wore BBMP ID cards and collected details like name, phone number, voter ID, Aadhaar number, caste, religion, marital status, employment and addresses from the houses we visited,” he said.
Other workers contacted by the The News Minute also alleged that they were misled into believing they were part of a legitimate government exercise. They alleged that the company lured them into the exercise for salaries ranging between Rs 15,000 and Rs 25,000.
According to the report, most of the workers quit the job as they was not paid wages and also complained about deplorable working conditions.
One of the workers, Ranjith Kumar, told The News Minute: “We also carried out booth-level mapping surveys by drawing maps by hand and marking out each individual unit based on whether it was a commercial or residential property, and whether it was vacant or occupied.”
Done nothing wrong, claims director
Meanwhile, Ravikumar Krishnappa, one of the directors of the Chilume Trust, has claimed that he has done nothing wrong and that the amendment in the law allows private companies to collect voter data.
Krishnappa said that he was been collecting data since 2014. He also claimed that he had once been arrested and sent to judicial custody but was exonerated when it was proven that he had not committed any crime.
Meanwhile, Bommai said said he is ready for an investigation
“If some people in that NGO have misused that position that will be inquired into and action will be taken against them,” he said. “That is not an issue at all. But what is the proof? Private information was given to whom? Nothing is on paper, it is a baseless allegation and I’m astonished that the Congress is so bankrupt of ideas.”