The Madras High Court on Thursday said the Unique Identification Authority of India must provide an adequate answer on how the Puducherry unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party accessed phone numbers of voters from its database to allegedly boost its election campaign in the Union Territory, Bar and Bench reported.
A bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy was hearing a public interest litigation petition filed by A Anand of the Democratic Youth Federation of India, alleging that the saffron party was illegally using the Aadhaar data of voters. Anand said that the BJP has created booth-level WhatsApp groups that were sending messages to target voters in various parts of Puducherry. He said that after receiving one such message himself, he contacted the WhatsApp group administrator and asked how they obtained his mobile number.
“There is a credible allegation which has been squarely levelled that only mobile phones linked to Aadhar cards have received the SMS messages,” the Madras High Court said. “It is squarely for the UIDAI to provide an adequate answer.”
The court said this was a “serious matter” as it involves privacy of citizens, apart from the unfair mileage that the political party may have gained. “This huge aspect should not be lost in the politics of the season or the hullaballoo of the attendant campaigning,” the court added. “The UIDAI is required to answer how details and particulars furnished to it and in confidence by citizens in the hope that confidentiality would be preserved... may not have been able to respect such confidentiality.”
The court rejected the BJP’s submissions that field workers had collected the phone numbers of voters through various sources, including missed calls made by them to join the party, door-to-door collection of details and from data available in the public domain. “It is not acceptable that such information would have been obtained by karyakartas [field workers] as suggested by BJP, Puducherry,” it said.
The court will hear the matter in six weeks. “If only to not undermine the faith in the democratic process and to ensure the conduct of free and fair elections, all respondent authorities need to provide answers as sought,” it said.
On Wednesday, the UIDAI had informed the court that it had never shared personal data, given to it for the purpose of obtaining Aadhaar cards, with any entity other than its own “authorised user agencies”.
The chief justice of Madras High Court had said “if the credibility of the system is dented, then the image of the country takes a beating”, according to Bar and Bench.
However, Central government standing counsel V Chandrasekhar, representing the UIDAI, maintained that there had been no tampering of any records.
Puducherry will go to polls on April 6 and the results will be declared on May 2.