Source: 
TNIE
https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/tamil-nadu/2024/Apr/22/voters-question-ecis-unilateral-name-deletions-in-tamil-nadu
Author: 
B Anbuselvan
Date: 
22.04.2024
City: 
Chennai

The ECI’s guidelines for electoral roll revision suggest that Booth Level Officers (BLOs) should carry out field verification and issue notices to voters before their names are deleted.

With complaints of the deletion of thousands of voter names emerging on polling day in Tamil Nadu, a section of voters and activists have demanded that the Election Commission of India’s authority to unilaterally delete voter names should be regulated.

They demanded that it should be mandatory for notice to be issued to voters before their names are deleted and that a provision should be made for voters to exercise their franchise in the event of an erroneous deletion. On these demands, however, ECI officials remain tight-lipped and Chief Electoral Officer Satyabrata Sahoo could not be reached for comments.

During the general election polling on April 19, thousands of voters in Chennai and other parts of TN complained their names had been deleted despite possessing valid voter IDs and residing at the same address for several years.

According to ECI rules, voter names can be removed upon the receipt of Form 7 from family members. Furthermore, the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) of the constituency has the authority to delete names under suo motu powers in cases of death and other reasons. The ECI’s guidelines for electoral roll revision suggest that Booth Level Officers (BLOs) should carry out field verification and issue notices to voters before their names are deleted, but in practice this is hardly implemented.

‘Staff never visited voters’ residence for verification’

According to official data, 6.02 lakh voters were removed from rolls from January 2022 to January 2023, and 6.43 lakh were removed between January 2023 and January 2024.

Sources attributed the deletion of names to various reasons including death of voters, change of address. “In the process of standardising the Electoral Photo Identification Card from 2019 to 2020, Election Commission converted non-standard EPIC numbers into 10-digit alphanumeric ones and issued new identity cards. A year later, it was found that multiple voter IDs had been issued with same EPIC number,” explained an official.

“During the voter list revision exercise in 2022-23, EPIC numbers assigned to more than one person were deleted. Multiple EPIC numbers linked to a single voter ID were also removed,” they added. Booth level agents told TNIE that BLOs been tasked with the responsibility of conducting field visits never visit the residence of the voter whose name has been identified for deletion by the ER O. “The deletion list is then usually provided to political party agents, and if no objections are raised, the names are deleted. We only check for the deletion of our known supporters’ names,” said an agent.

Despite throwing ECI guidelines to the winds, officials deployed on electoral roll revision, including IAS officers, often escape accountability mainly due to an absence of legal provisions mandating field verification or issuance of notice before name deletions, said voters and activists.

According to retired IAS officer and activist M G Devasahayam, ECI has been functioning without any accountability for various issues. “The provision which allows EC officials to delete the names without the voters’ knowledge had been destroying the entire electoral process, but the courts remain mute spectators.”

Six months ago, the Supreme Court dismissed a petition filed by Devasahayam seeking mandatory issuance of notices to voters before deletion of their names. The Electoral Registration Officer under Rule 21A of the Registration of Electors Rules, 1960 has the power to delete names of dead persons or of persons, who have ceased to be or are not ordinarily resident in the constituency, suo moto without receiving physical application.

ECI officials’ remarks blaming voters for not checking the voters’ list defies logic, said D R Alexander of Anna Nagar. He said, “I have voted for the 2019 and 2021 elections and I have not changed address. Then, how could I imagine my name would be deleted from the voters’ list?” P Joseph Victor Raj, coordinator of the Association for Democratic Reforms Tamil Nadu said, “In the past, there were complaints of deletion of voter names from particular villages, streets and communities. The ECI must take concrete measures to bridge the gap in the deletion process.”

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