Published on: 10 August 2023 at 11:12 IST
The Election Commission of India has reaffirmed its commitment to providing prior notice before deleting voters’ names from electoral rolls.
This assurance led to the recent dismissal of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) challenging the constitutionality of Rule 18 of the Registration of Electors Rules, 1960 by the Supreme Court.
Former bureaucrats M.G. Devasahayam, Somasundar Burra, and Aditi Mehta were the petitioners who contended that Rule 18 allowed for the removal of names from the electoral roll without due inquiry or a chance to be heard.
A division bench comprising Justice Sanjiv Khanna and Justice S V N Bhatti concluded the PIL after being satisfied with the Election Commission of India’s explanation of the relevant statutory provisions related to the deletion of voters’ names:
“The Election Commission of India outlines the framework and purpose of Rule 18 of the Registration of Electors Rules, 1960. The Election Commission has also issued letter no. 23/1/2013-ERS dated 11.12.2013 to prevent incorrect deletions from the electoral rolls.”
Rule 18 of the Registration of Electors Rules, 1960 states that valid claims or objections can be accepted without further inquiry by the registration officer, provided they adhere to specified timelines and formats. However, if a written inquiry demand is submitted by an aggrieved person, no acceptance occurs until the inquiry is carried out.
The petitioners argued that Rule 18 permits the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) to delete a voter’s name without prior notice or an opportunity to be heard.
The ECI refuted this claim by asserting that voters’ names are not removed without prior notice or intimation by the concerned ERO.
The ECI elaborated on the statutory provisions that prevent ineligible or fake voters. Public notices are issued for all claims and objections filed with the ERO, allowing interested parties to raise objections. If an inquiry is not immediately accepted or rejected, Rule 20 mandates a summary inquiry, followed by a notice to all concerned parties as per Rule 19.
The ERO may request the presence and evidence of relevant individuals as part of the inquiry.
The ECI also pointed to its 2013 and 2021 instructions that introduced additional safeguards, including issuing notices to electors, avoiding suo motu deletions in election years, and sending SMS and email notifications for entry deletions.
The Supreme Court endorsed the ECI’s 2013 letter, acknowledging its efforts to prevent wrongful deletions from electoral rolls.
The Court further stated that parties with grievances could seek recourse through the State Election Commission or the relevant Election Officer and pursue appropriate legal remedies if needed.
The PIL was represented by Senior Advocate Salman Khurshid, Advocate Sarim Naved, Advocate Aakarsh Kamra, AOR Advocate Farheen Fatma, Advocate Shabeena Anjum, and Advocate Pranay Kumar.