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Credible Allegations That Only Aadhaar Linked Numbers Received Campaign Messages From BJP, UIDAI Needs To Answer: Madras High Court

Sparsh Upadhyay
1 April 2021 3:12 PM GMT
Credible Allegations That Only Aadhaar Linked Numbers Received Campaign Messages From BJP, UIDAI Needs To Answer: Madras High Court
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Hearing a Public Interest Litigation petition filed alleging that the Puducherry unit of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has misused Aadhaar details of voters for election campaigning purposes, the Madras High Court on Thursday (01st April) remarked, "There appears to be a serious breach by the sixth respondent political party (BJP) in how it conducted its campaign in Puducherry for...

Hearing a Public Interest Litigation petition filed alleging that the Puducherry unit of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has misused Aadhaar details of voters for election campaigning purposes, the Madras High Court on Thursday (01st April) remarked,

"There appears to be a serious breach by the sixth respondent political party (BJP) in how it conducted its campaign in Puducherry for the forthcoming Assembly elections."

It may be noted that filing the instant petition, the Petitioner had alleged that Puducherry unit of BJP had sent messages to the mobile numbers that were linked to the Aadhar and not on other telephones or mobile phones which were not linked to the Aadhar.

To this, the Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy on Thursday observed,

"Bulk SMS/messages/voice messages were sent on the electronic media by the political party, which amounted to resorting to campaign on the electronic media without obtaining the previous permission of the Election Commission in such regard"

Significantly, the Court noted that the plea before the Court alleged that the petitioner as well as other Puducherry citizens received messages on their mobile phones with invitation link to join booth-level WhatsApp groups allegedly created by BJP.

BJP's submission

Appearing before the Court, Puducherry Unit of BJP submitted that it had not obtained the information from UIDAI, but such information was garnered through the efforts of its karyakartas.

However, the Court found it 'completely unacceptable' that such information would have been obtained by karyakartas and underlined that it was incumbent on the UIDAI to provide an adequate answer.

the Election Commission submitted before the Court that the matter rests with the Election Commission in Delhi as to what appropriate action ought to be taken in the light of the facts that have emerged.

Court's observations

The Court, at the outset, observed that it was completely within the domain of the Election Commission to deal with the issue, as to whether there had been a breach of the Model Code and the consequences.

Further, the Court noted,

"Apart from the unfair mileage, that the sixth respondent, a political party may have gained in resorting to a form of a campaign without obtaining prior permission therefore as required, there is the more serious matter of the privacy of the citizens being breached. This huge aspect of the matter should not be lost in the politics of the season or the hullabaloo of the attendant campaigning."

Most importantly, the Court observed that the UIDAI was required to answer as to how the details and particulars furnished to it in confidence by citizens, and in the hope that the confidentiality would be preserved, may not have been adequately protected.

The Court also observed that there was a credible allegation which has been squarely leveled that only mobile phones linked to the Aadhar have received the SMS/messages.

Significantly, the Court added,

"There is no doubt that such body would treat and guard the information regarding citizens that it possesses with a degree of responsibility and an appropriate inquiry would be conducted to ascertain the source of the leak, if any. It is completely unacceptable that such information would have been obtained by karyakartas as suggested by the sixth respondent political party."

Lastly, the Court directed that the matter would appear six weeks hence and after the forthcoming elections are done and dusted, for appropriate answers to be received.

The matter has now been listed for further hearing on 11th June 2021.

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