New Delhi, (IANS) If you are planning to apply online to get your name included in the electoral rolls for a Voter ID Card, hold on — chances are your efforts may come to naught since the Election Commission (EC) says it is not accepting applications online, at least for now.
This digital disconnect of the top election body of the country comes at a time when the Narendra Modi government at the Centre is betting big on its “Digital India” programme by putting more and more people-centric services online.
An RTI application filed by me to know the fate of two online applications, including my own, threw up the startling revelation about one of the premier institutions of India, which claims to provide several citizen services at their doorstep.
I had applied online for inclusion of my name about six month ago — on September 2, 2016, precisely — through the National Voters’ Services Portal (www.nvsp.in), touted as the “One-Stop Services” portal, designed and maintained by C-DAC GIST, Pune, for the EC.
Using the “Apply Online for Registration of New Voter” link, I filled up the application form and duly submitted all requisite documents in digital format through the built-in facility in the website. I also received an acknowledgement SMS from the EC, stating that my application had been “successfully submitted” and a reference ID was provided to check my application status in future.
After an agonising wait of three months, during which the website kept showing the application status as “under process”, I filed an RTI application on November 25 last year.
Finally, the EC Secretariat replied to the RTI application on February 9 — more than two months after I had filed the plea and exactly two days before voting for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls was to begin, with balloting due in my area — Ghaziabad — on February 11, informing that the facility was “not available” at present.
“You are… informed that at present the facility for receiving of application online is not available in the Election Commission of India. Hence, it seems that your application has not been received at this end,” read the RTI reply, signed by EC Under Secretary and Central Public Information Officer Soumyajit Ghosh.
I was shocked to find that after waiting for over five months, I was back to square one. Neither could I get my name included in the electoral rolls nor get a Voter ID Card. Voting day came and went by, and I, a bystander, simply watched people queuing up and voting.
I wondered if the online application facility is not available then why is the site operational at all? They could have at least mentioned in the website that online application facility is not available now. In the last five months, I could have applied through the traditional route and got my name included in the voters list.
Also, if “not available at present” was intended to convey their being occupied with the election process, it must not have been the case in early September, when I had submitted my application.
Unhappy and frustrated over having missed the chance to cast my vote, I decided to contact Ghosh. He, however, failed to come up with a satisfactory response. He, instead, advised me to contact Santosh Kumar Dubey, the RTI Section Officer in the EC. “He would be able to throw more light on your case.”
Dubey had an interesting take on the situation: “We have been assigned the task to handle EC queries by the DoPT (Department of Personnel and Training) without any formal training. We also do not have access to the EC websites… We have written to the DoPT to impart us proper training on how to address queries reaching the Commission.”
By now, more than pursuing my own case, I was interested in knowing the fate of online applications. Do they really work, or is it just an ineffective tool provided under pressure from the “Digital India” push of the government?
I decided to reach out to the Uttar Pradesh State Election Commission in Lucknow. Its Officer on Special Duty Rakesh Kumar Singh told me on February 13 that making the Voter ID Card is a centralised process and is done only at the EC headquarters in Delhi. However, he also asked me to check out with the Ghaziabad office of the EC.
Instead of talking over the phone, I chose to lodge a complaint with the Ghaziabad office through their website, also to check whether anything online works in our Digital India.
To my surprise, the very next morning (February 14) I received a phone call from that office. I was told that my query has been addressed and name included in the electoral rolls. In case of any issues, I was asked to visit the local tehsil office.
Excited, I immediately checked the electoral roll of my assembly constituency — Ghaziabad 56 — and my excitement proved to be short-lived. My name was not there.
And even after the passage of almost a month, my name is still not there, not to talk about the Voter ID card.
The entire episode points to just one thing: Instead of being taken in by the “Digital India” claim of the government, it was better if I had opted to go for paper work to get the needful done.
“Pass the buck” appears to be the tendency of some government institutions, as my experience showed.
A survey that I conducted among my friends and followers on Facebook and LinkedIn suggested that while online voter registration facility has worked for some in the national capital, it did not work for many of those living outside Delhi.
Now I intend to visit the local tehsil office to apply afresh for the Voter ID card.
By Nirmal Anshu Ranjan