The Narendra Modi government is contemplating organising a meeting with state election commissioners in the near future to try and convince them to adopt a common electoral roll for elections to the parliament, assemblies and local bodies, sources said.
The day the Rajya Sabha passed the Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which enables the linking of electoral roll data with the Aadhaar ecosystem amid opposition protests, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice convened a scheduled meeting on the “Status of Common Electoral Roll for conducting elections in the country”.
Sources in the BJP said the common electoral roll is aimed at addressing the issue of vote-rigging, which is rampant in some states, especially where a certain party or coalition has been in power for multiple, consecutive terms like the CPI(M) for 34 years followed by the Trinamool Congress for a decade so far in West Bengal.
The committee is headed by BJP’s Sushil Kumar Modi.
The representatives of the opposition in the committee, namely the Trinamool Congress’s Sukhendu Sekhar Ray, INC’s Deepender Hooda and DMK’s P Wilson, opposed the proposal, arguing that it was an encroachment on the rights of the states. Some of the opposition members argued that the union government had no powers or authority to tinker with the powers given to the State Election Commission under the Constitution of India.
The Secretary of the Legislative Department Reeta Vasishta and representatives of the Election Commission gave the committee a presentation on the status of common electoral roll. The union government told the committee that it planned to hold a meeting with state election commissioners soon to persuade them to adopt a common electoral roll.
For the moment, the Modi government is not in favour of amending the law, but it wants to persuade all states to adopt a common electoral roll.
On 16 December, Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra and Election Commissioners Rajiv Kumar and Anup Chandra Pandey had participated in an online “interaction” that the Prime Minister’s Office had convened despite the officers’ reservations. The interaction was on the issue of a common electoral roll.
The interaction took place a day after the Election Commission received an unusually worded letter from an official of the Ministry of Law, the administrative ministry of the poll panel, that Principal Secretary to PM PK Mishra would “chair a meeting” on a common electoral roll and “expects CEC” to be present.
The issue of a common electoral roll had been on the discussion table since 2002 when Justice MN Venkatachaliah headed the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution recommended a common electoral roll for elections to panchayati raj institutions, state assembly and Sansad.
The Second Administrative Reforms Commission headed by the INC’s Veerappa Moily in its sixth report on local governance in 2007 took a view that local government laws should provide for adoption of assembly electoral rolls for the local government without any revision of names by the State Election Commissions. But the Law Commission of India in its 255th Report on Electoral Reform in 2015 favoured the introduction of a common electoral roll for the parliament, assembly and local body elections.