By David Laitphlang
Election officials have been left scrambling to find an explanation as to how a number of voters in East Khasi Hills have received two or more voter identification cards (EPIC), some of which bear different ID numbers.
The problem is not localised to one constituency but has been found to have occurred in different parts of East Khasi Hills. The rot could well have spread farther.
The new EPICs are being rolled out ahead of the much-awaited Lok Sabha elections, with the first ones distributed on National Voters Day, January 25. But what should have been part of the joyous festival of democracy turned out to have a very serious kink that has raised eyebrows.
It is the Booth Level Officers (BLOs) who collect the EPICs from their Enumerators at the office of the Deputy Commissioner, who is the designated Electoral Registration Officer (ERO).
The issue of multiple cards was noticed at the BLO level but, when they brought the matter up to their Enumerators, they were told to continue with the exercise of distribution.
“So, we carried on with our designated duty and kept on distributing the cards since we thought it must be part of the process and more so since our superior advised us so,” a BLO of a semi-urban constituency told this reporter after being assured confidentiality. “Though it is confusing, we are on an assignment to complete this as commissioned by the Election Commission of India and so we are following orders.”
Two voter ID cards with the same exact details would perhaps not be all that worrying but there has been at least one case (see photo) where the ID number is different – while the first eight characters are the same, the last two vary. When queried as to which is the correct enrolment number, the relevant BLO bewilderedly replied, “I really can’t say. That answer is way above my pay grade. Only senior officers know the answer.”
People with adequate knowledge of the electoral process in the country have also expressed surprise at such an occurrence. “I will soon retire from service but throughout my career I have been integrally involved with the Election Department in various capacities and, believe me, this has never occurred before. I don’t know what to say. Even Aadhaar and PAN cards are issued singly, not in multiples,” a senior government employee said.
Vincent Pala, the incumbent Shillong MP, was quick to respond to this issue when it was brought to his notice. “I am shocked and alarmed by this information,” he told this reporter. “I shall find out more about this and, if this is true, then surely someone must clarify on such a grave blunder, some definite answers must be given especially when we are going to the polls soon.”
Echoing similar concern and apprehension, opposition Trinamool Congress (TMC) Meghalaya unit president Charles Pyngrope expressed astonishment at such news. “If this is true then it is very alarming. With the MP elections soon to be held throughout the country, I think the Election Commission of India should inquire into such instances immediately and take immediate corrective measures to rectify any anomaly. A voter with two different EPIC numbers will be confused about which is the right one. Who will take the blame, ECI or the voter?” he asked.
However, the person most in shock appeared to be none other than the Chief Electoral Officer of Meghalaya, BDR Tiwari. When informed of the matter, his first reaction was, “How is that possible? It cannot be.”
He then proffered a somewhat plausible explanation – that a new card was issued when the voter had yet to return the old one. However, this seems unlikely as all the cards seen by this reporter are the brand new ones, including the one with different voter ID numbers. “It could be a mistake. It should not happen,” he added while pointing the finger of responsibility at the ERO.
Later, he said, “Preliminary inquiry reveals that such duplicity has taken place in only one batch but we are still probing further and if any lapse is detected, appropriate remedial measures will be initiated promptly.”
The EPICs are printed in Hyderabad and the mistake could have arisen there but, again, “It is the responsibility of the respective EROs to ensure this does not happen. Rest assured the matter will be addressed shortly,” Tiwari added.