New Delhi: Taking serious note of recent incidents of dangerous militants in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) messing about with voter identity (ID) cards, India’s chief election commissioner discussed the matter here last week with the state’s chief electoral officer since assembly elections are due in the sensitive state in September.
The election commission in J&K has issued so-called manual voter ID cards, in which the photograph of the voter is stuck manually on the card, making it easy to tamper with. In the more modern digitized cards, the photos are imprinted digitally on the cards, thus reducing chances of misuse.
Giving options: Peoples Democratic Party’s Sayeed says EC should allow other ID cards such as driving licence and passport for voting.
“We are digitizing the office copy of the existing voter ID cards, but the voter’s copy will remain manual as of now,” said B.R. Sharma, J&K’s chief electoral officer.
The state administration has said it will issue only digital photo ID cards to new voters before the September polls, a step that is unlikely to keep the militants at bay since those who already have the “manual” cards will continue to retain them.
“In September 2006, we issued a directive that no more manual voter ID cards will be issued. The ECI (Election Commission of India) approved of the system of digital cards then. We have just finished creating a database that can help us identify the remaining voters. We will try to issue digital cards before the assembly elections,” Sharma added.
Political parties, however, have been crying foul over the incidents of misuse. “This government should be dismissed since it is a complete failure. I can assure you that there is absolutely no chance of digital cards being issued before this assembly polls,” said Ashok Khajuria, president of Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s state unit.
Mehbooba Mufti Sayeed, president of the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party, on her part, suggested alternatives to curb the misuse. “The ECI should allow the use of other authentic identity cards for voting in the state. Driving licences, ration cards and passports, etc., are being allowed as voter IDs in the forthcoming Karnataka elections, then why not in Jammu and Kashmir?” she asked.
“It is not possible to issue new digital cards by this election, hence the ECI should consider this option here as well,” Sayeed added.
Khajuria, however, alleged that “it is part of the government’s deliberate strategy to not issue digital voter ID cards”. “There is a complete interference by the state government in the working of the chief electoral officer and we should have an independent body like the ECI taking charge of things,” he said.
J&K started issuing voter ID cards only in 2002, much later than in other states in India. “If what was followed elsewhere was followed in the state, that itself is foolproof,” said chief election commissioner N. Gopalaswamy.
However, a home ministry official, said on condition of anonymity that last-mile connectivity in J&K was a problem and, therefore, there might have been some issues with voter verification.
The ministry is expecting a report on the matter from the state government early in May.
“The state has some special problems that are not faced by others,” the ministry official said. “We will decide on what steps need to be taken once the state government sends us their inquiry report.”