Section 15 of the bill introduced in Parliament (National Identity Registration Bill 2023) stipulates that the registration of voters will be done with information from the Ministry of Home Affairs. However, according to the Election Commission (EC) Act, the EC is entirely independent when it comes to registering voters.
Article 119 of the Constitution states that the EC is vested with the responsibility to delimit the constituencies for the parliamentary elections and prepare the voter list. The National Identity Registration Act of 2010 also empowered the EC with respect to National Identity Card Services.
Section 30 of the bill introduced in the parliament states that with the repeal of the previous law, all information related to the NID registration and NID stored and collected by the EC will be handed over to the registrar operating under home ministry.
When the government initiated the transfer of the National Identity Card service to the Ministry of Home Affairs during the previous election commission's tenure, there was some mild objection from the commission.
While the current commission accepts the decision in principle, some questions remain. The EC stated that it has no objections to the transfer of NID services to the home ministry, as the national identity card and voter list are entirely distinct entities.
According to the bill, the government will appoint a 'registrar' responsible for issuing national identity cards. The EC will obtain the necessary information from this registrar, as required.
To facilitate this, a dedicated cell will be established within the registrar's office, where one or more EC employees will carry out their duties.
But why was this not discussed with the election commission? Election commissioner Rasheda Sultana, who oversees the legal affairs of the election commission, stated that, to the best of her knowledge, there have been no discussions with the home ministry regarding the drafting of this law.
Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan introduced the bill in parliament on 4 September, stating that children born now will be assigned an ID number from birth. This legislation will not hinder the voter list process. When a citizen reaches 18 years of age, they will receive a notice informing them of their voter status, and their name will be added to the voter list.
It must be remembered that the voter list, attaching with the national identity cards, was prepared under special circumstances, and the EC bore full responsibility for this task.
National identity cards and voter lists are not the same entities. Based on this, even if the home ministry assumes responsibility for NID, it cannot undertake the preparation of the voter list or ghost the election commission. The EC must be consulted before enacting any such law.
Questions have also arisen regarding the purpose of hastily passing this law just three months before the elections. Through this action, the government has not only undermined the authority of the independent election commission but has also raised concerns about the institution's acceptability.
Badiul Alam Majumdar, Secretary of Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (SHUJAN), expressed concern about the independence of the election commission if its officials work within the organisation under the Ministry of Home Affairs.
It may not be possible for the EC to prepare the voter list if the National Identity Card database is under the Ministry of Home Affairs. Nevertheless, the election commission must ensure the accuracy of the voter list before the election.