Saturday, June 3, 2023

ECI tells Supreme Court about voters given prior notice before deleting their names from voter list

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The Election Commission of India (ECI) told the Supreme Court last week that the voters are given prior notice and adequate opportunity to be heard before any decision is taken on deleting their names from voter lists.

The poll body has replied to the allegations which have been levelled in a public interest litigation (PIL) petition which states that the that Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) have unconstitutional powers to delete names without prior notices or hearings.

Such a submission is without any basis, the ECI underscored in its affidavit date January 13.

The name of a voter is not deleted from the electoral roll without prior intimation or notice to him by the concerned Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) … As a safeguard against the possible enrolment of ineligible or ghost voters, public notice is given of all claims and objections loged with the ERO as per Rule 16 of the Registration of Electors Rules, 1960,” the affidavit filed by the ECI stated.

On Monday, a bench of Justices KM Joseph and BV Nagarathna gave three-weeks’ time to the petitioners to file their rejoinder to the ECI’s counter-affidavit.

The affidavit was filed in response to a plea before the Supreme Court by one MG Devasahayam and others seeking a host of directions concerning fair elections.

The petitioners have submitted that the Registration of Electors Rules confer ‘wide discretionary powers on the Registration Officer‘ to rectify errors, ‘without any provision for the affected parties to be notified or heard‘.

In this regard, the petitioners have prayed that Rule 18 of the Registration of Electors Rules, which allows the confirmation of objections to inclusion in voters’ lists without any inquiry, be declared as unconstitutional.

In its counter-affidavit, the ECI said that EROs are only permitted to accept objections to inclusion in voters’ lists without an enquiry only seven days after the publication of relevant notices and in the absence of a written demand for enquiry.

” … where a claim or enquiry has not been summarily rejected or accpeted without any enquiry, the ERO shall hold a summary enquiry into every such claim or objection, as provided under Rule 20,” the ECI’s counter stated.

In such summary enquiries, EROs may require persons to appear in-person and get evidence on oath, it was further submitted.

” … in most cases, the ERO also gets the claims and objections verfied by Booth Level Officers through on-the-spot local enquiry,” the ECI submitted.

Further, Rule 21 grants the officer powers to take remedial action on account of any inadvertent deletions that are brought to light prior to the publication of the final electoral roll, the ECI said. Rule 17, it was further submitted, enables EROs to reject those claims that were not filed in the correct format and within time.

Pertinently, these Rules have been held as being in line with the principles of natural justice in the Supreme Court decision in Lakshmi Charan Senthe poll body contended.

The poll body also pointed out that Section 22(c) of the Representation of People Act provides for deletion of names of the deceased post verification of the same.

The affidavit was filed through advocate Amit Sharma.

The other issues raised by the PIL petition include the need for a common electoral roll for Parliamentary, Assembly and local body elections and compensation for those denied the right to vote due to deletion of their names from the voters list.

The petitioners have also called on the Supreme Court to issue directions to the ECI to appoint senior civil servants from outside the State / Union Territory where electors’ registration and deletion processes are under way, to ensure accuracy and objectivity in voters list.

The plea added that linking the Aadhaar numbers with the voter cards will not be the panacea it is being claimed to be. It is the paramount duty of the ECI to ensure that eligible voters are included in electoral rolls, the petitioners had submitted.

Further, the petitioners have also suggested the deletion of names of those who died during the COVID-19 pandemic from the voters’ lists using available data.

In November, the top court had sought the responses of the ECI and the Central government in the matter, while limiting the scope of the challenge to the Constitutional validity of Rule 18 of the Registration of Electors Rules.

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