In a disheartening revelation, names of as many as 4,23,952 voters had been deleted by the district election department from Pune city area. During and after Thursday’s Lok Sabha polling in the city, thousands of voters came out to protest after their names vanished from voter lists despite their record of regular voting.
Ink and ire: Angry citizens complain that they couldn’t cast the ballot despite having voter IDs. Pic/Mohan Patil
Many Right to Information (RTI) activists claim that most were genuine voters, and are now contemplating legal action against poll officers. The officials, though, said that adequate precautions were before deleting names. Vijay Kumbhar, an RTI activist, claimed that after his demand, state election commission on Saturday published the lists of voters whose names had been deleted in 2013 and 2014. As per this list, 4,23,952 names of Pune Lok Sabha constituency’s total of 18.32 lakh voters, had been deleted.
Elbowed out: Citizens come out to protest their missing names, on polling day. File Pic
Assuming the activists’ claim that most were genuine to be true, the figure dictates that around 25 per cent Punekars could not cast their vote on Thursday. “Initially this figure of deleted voters was 1,08,000. But the data published by state election commission on its website on Saturday says that the actual figure is 4,23,952. The election officials kept lakhs of voters in the city in dark while deleting their names,” Kumbhar said.
At first, the state election commission had published deletion figures for both 2013 and 2014. But by Sunday evening, the list of 2013 abruptly vanished from the website, leaving only a fraction of the original deletion figure from 2014. “Fortunately I had gathered data of all six constituencies in Pune city on Saturday itself,” Kumbhar said. Some activists are seeking legal opinions whether a PIL can be filed in the Bombay High Court.
Another activist, Anita Shamani, who has complied data of around 5000 citizens who had not voted, said, “As the model code is in effect we right now can’t file a PIL. But once the elections in the state get over on April 24, we will approach the Bombay High Court, seeking answers to why and how lakhs of people could not cast their vote. It is shocking that in Pune city itself, over four lakh people were denied their vote. Even if we consider that 50 per cent of these are genuine, the figure is still huge.”
Deepak Bharadia of Volunteer for a Better India said, “Generating data of all the voters who could not cast their votes — to the extent possible — should be the first step before approaching the EC.”
Poll officials say
District Deputy Election Officer Apoorva Wankhede, however, was unable to accept that so many genuine names were deleted by her staff. “I don’t have the exact data but I think it should not be more that 2-2.5 lakh names,” Wankhede said.
Informed that the source of the humongous figure is nothing but the official website of the state election commission, she said, “It’s the combined data of the last two-three years. If you compare year-wise statistics, the numbers are very less in 2014 compared to past years.”
She added, “With consistent efforts we have ensured that bogus names get deleted. In many cases, names of voters remain on lists even after their death or a change in addresses. So drives for deleting names are equally important.”
However, the district’s top election official admitted that the 8,000 block level officers (BLO) may have erred by deleting names of genuine voters. “As many as 8,000 BLOs were involved in updating voter lists. I cannot say that all had worked honestly. We have to take into consideration the element of human error,” Wankhede said.
Asked to elaborate, she said some officers may not have gone through the trouble of personally cross-checking with voters before hitting delete. “BLOs include government employees from various departments. Though it is expected of a BLO to visit every home allotted to them before deleting any name on grounds like change of address, there is a possibility that some may have updated it while sitting at home.”
Adding, however, that voters were equally responsible, Wankhede said, “All educated voters, who are now complaining, had not taken any efforts in the past. Rather, when BLOs tried to visit them at their homes, they did not entertain them at all.”
Rs 18.32lakh Total number of voters in Pune Lok Sabha constituency
On Sunday, many activists appealed to citizens to register a complaint if they were unable to execute their franchise.
Reshma Bhogale, who was voluntarily compiling data of voters at Harshal Hall on Karve Road, said, "On election day I searched for my name at all 11 polling booths in Kothrud. But it was missing from the voter list, even though I am a regular voter. However, the name of my husband, who died 12 years back, was there at one of the centres, and somebody had voted in his name. Ten years back, I had got his name deleted from the list." She added, "We don't want re-election. Our demand is simple. Give a chance to all those who didn't get to vote, because we are the taxpayers of this country." Ketaki Joshi, who has approached the officials to register her complaint, said, "Among my whole family, only my name was missing, so I could not vote. The claim by election department that people are not vigilant is wrong." Akhil Katkar said that the names of all four of his family members were not on the list.
Amol Palekar, wife lodge police complaint
Deputy election officer Wankhede criticised celebrities such as Amol Palekar for not approaching the electoral officers to re-enter names. Palekar had lodged a police complaint after he and his wife Sandhya Gokhale were denied their right as their names were missing from the voter list. “If he was aware last month that his name was missing from the voter list, he should have approached my office, or filled up Form 6 to ensure his name was re-entered. This shows voters are also equally responsible,” she said. Palekar’s wife Sandhya said, “Administrative officials are trying to save themselves. We will wait for the formal reply from EC. We both have our election cards and our names were in the list.”
Names deleted in past two years
On Saturday, the official website of the Chief Electoral Officer of Maharashtra (ceo.maharashtra.gov.in) made available data of voters in Pune Lok Sabha constituency whose names were deleted in last two years:
State assembly constituency 2013 2014
Vadgaon Sheri 52,799 5,182
Shivajinagar 63,986 1,799
Kothrud 72,375 3,419
Parvati 64,719 776
Pune Cantonment 72,533 1,661
Kasba 83,428 1,275
Pune constituency 4,09,840 14,112