New Delhi: While hearing a PIL alleging that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Puducherry unit had misused Aadhaar data during its election campaign, the Madras high court said there appears to be a “serious breach” in how the party conducted itself.
The petitioner Anand, president of the Democratic Youth Federation of India, claimed that the BJP had sent campaign-related SMS messages to Aadhaar-linked mobile numbers but not other numbers. The court found this to be a credible allegation and said that the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) must answer how these user details may not have been adequately protected.
“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,” the bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy said on Thursday, according to LiveLaw.
The UIDAI had denied the allegation that Aadhaar data, more particularly the cell phone numbers of voters in Puducherry, were given to the BJP for campaigning for the April 6 elections. The counsel representing the Puducherry unit of the BJP told the judges that the party did not steal any mobile phone data.
“It was collected by its karyakartas (partymen) over a long period. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it had used innovative methods of sending SMS to voters with a link to join booth level WhatsApp groups,” the BJP’s counsel said.
The court did not buy this argument, saying it was “completely unacceptable” that party workers could have collected these numbers, and said that the UIDAI must provide an adequate answer on how the data was revealed.
However, the bench felt that a new method should have been used only after obtaining the permission of the Election Commission, as per the model code of conduct, which is in force.
“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,” the bench said.
Earlier on Wednesday, the court said that a level playing field should be created, so that the elections are held freely and fairly. “We must be able to hold our heads high and tell the world that we are a successful democracy despite many problems such as poverty. The image of our country takes a beating whenever malpractices happen in elections.”
“We are surrounded by instances such as military junta and dictatorship. We should be proud to be a democracy, despite having been under colonial rule for 200 years and facing several problems even now,” the judges had said.
Election Commission officials told the court that the facts had been presented to the EC headquarters in Delhi, where it would be decided what the appropriate action is. The court too had said that the EC must decide whether the model code of conduct has been violated and what consequences there should be.
The court also said, according to LiveLaw,
“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 pror 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.”
The next hearing for the matter has been set for April 11, after the elections.
(With PTI inputs)