186 million Indians don’t have voter ID cards!

A decade-and-a-half after the electoral photo identity card (EPIC) scheme began, and despite Rs 1,500 crore having been spent so far on the project, more than 186 million Indians — or more than a quarter of all eligible voters — still do not have these cards. It is a failure that could lie at the heart of voter fraud and low voting percentages. Until recently, even former Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) JM Lyngdoh was among them. “We have been living in this area for four years now. Our photographs were taken about half a dozen times, but it was only recently that we were issued the cards,” Lyngdoh said on the telephone from his home near Chevella in Ranga Reddy district, Andhra Pradesh.

Only about 510 million out of more than 697 million voters in the country — or 73 per cent of the electorate — have so far received the cards, according to Election Commission records accessed by HT. The scheme was begun in 1993 when T.N. Seshan was the CEC.

Assam — the state represented by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the Rajya Sabha — has had no cards distributed at all. “As it always happens, the last-mile problem affects this work also,” CEC N Gopalaswami told HT.

There are 18 other documents — such as passports, driving licences, PAN cards, government ID cards and ration cards, among others — that voters are allowed to use to establish their identity at polling booths.

But officials feel that millions of rural voters still have no access to any of the 18 documents. Gopalaswami said a new strategy of preferentially covering the rural population with EPIC was being planned.

Neelesh Misra, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, May 15, 2007

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