EC has ordered probe into the theft of its official electoral rolls.
HYDERABAD: Perhaps in a first such instance, the Election Commission has ordered a probe into theft of its official electoral rolls in Andhra Pradesh, even as the state has officially engaged in a war of sorts with neighbouring Telangana which booked criminal cases of data theft against Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and formed a special investigation team (SIT) to unearth the facts. Andhra Pradesh has set up two SITs from its side.
As the election notification for both Lok Sabha and the Assembly is expected to be issued in the next couple of days, the issue of “mass deletion” of voters through the EC’s online portal by the rival parties assumed significance. While ruling TDP says that YSR Congress has deleted lakhs of its voters, the Opposition party alleges that the ruling party had been deleting lakhs of its voters.
The TRS government in Telangana has set up an eight member SIT led by Hyderabad (West) DCP Stephen Ravindra to investigate the stealing of Andhra Pradesh government data along with the voters’ list with colour photographs (which are supposed to be the sole property of EC) based on a complaint lodged by a YSR Congress leader Lokeswara Reddy in the second week of February.
The complaint says that the Andhra government has unofficially handed over the government data on details of around 3.5 crore voters, most of them beneficiaries of various government schemes like pensions, subsidies and direct cash transfers to BlueFrog, an IT solutions company based out of Visakhapatnam, and the firm in turn illegally transferred the data to M/s IT Grids Private Limited in Hyderabad.
The IT Grids company owned by Dakavaram Ashok also looks after organisational requirements of the TDP and runs an application, SevaMitra, that conducts regular surveys and opinion polls on voters. This application is also made available to all TDP’s active members and polling booth committee members so that they would know the public pulse in their respective areas.
Lokeswara Reddy, an active member of YSR Congress and a distant relative of the party president Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, in his complaint alleged that IT Grids has possessed a comprehensive list of AP voters with their colour photos and integrated it with other details of the voters like their Aadhaar card, bank accounts, telephone numbers so that they can be instantly contacted.
Based on the complaint, the Hyderabad police conducted raids on the premises of IT Grids in Sagar Society in Jubilee Hills on 22 and 23 February and came to the view that the firm had stolen the official data pertaining to the EC and the government of Andhra Pradesh, and that the same was being used for the electoral purposes of TDP.
V.C. Sajjanar, police commissioner of Cyberabad, that covers the posh IT industry areas on the west of the city, ordered registering of cases on 2 March against IT Grids and sent look out notices against its founder CEO Ashok. Sajjanar also formed a SIT led by DCP Ravindra to go to the roots of the case which appear to have links with top guns in the TDP.
Ravindra, who assumed charge of the SIT, told this newspaper on Friday that IT Grids has been collecting and handing over to TDP cadre through the SevaMitra App, the details of Andhra voters who appear to be in favour of YSR Congress. “And TDP activists have been filing applications for deletion of their names by using Form 7 on the EC portal,” said Ravindra.
The SIT head explained the modus operandi of the SevaMitra which asks the voter questions like what is their impression about the TDP government, performance of Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, whom would they vote this time etc. “If any voter indicates that she or he would be voting for Jagan this time, immediately the TDP workers would apply for deletion of their names,” the DCP said.
However, these charges have been refuted by Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu who ordered formation of two SITs—one led by additional DGP Balasubramanyam and another by IG law and order Venkateswara Rao—to look into the theft of AP’s data by Telangana police and misuse of Form 7 to delete lakhs of votes by YSR Congress. These two SITs have started their operations since Thursday.
Naidu also made a group of his ministers led by Deputy CM Nimmakayala China Rajappa who looks after the home portfolio, to go to the Guntur Rural SP on Wednesday and file a complaint that Telangana police had stolen Andhra data and handed over the same to YSR Congress which has used Form 7 of the EC to delete around 54 lakhs of its voters.
Naidu has taken this issue to a political level, saying that the BJP-led Centre and KCR-led Telangana governments have colluded to bring Jagan Mohan Reddy to power in the coming elections. “The three (PM Modi, KCR and Jagan) have hatched a conspiracy against me and my government and are trying to use the data theft case to implicate me,” Naidu told a media conference at Amaravati on Friday.
Meanwhile, the EC has ordered its own probe to find out how its electoral rolls with colour photos had gone into the hands of the parties and the misuse of Form 7 on its portal. EC has put on its portal two forms—Form 6 for enrolment of new voters, and Form 7 for deletion of bogus or duplicate votes. Of course, the EC will conduct its own verification before acting on the applications.
Chief Electoral Officer Gopalakrishna Dwivedi told The Sunday Guardian on Friday that the voters need not panic as not a single vote has been deleted since 7 January when the electoral rolls were announced. He also said that only 5,309 out of the total 1.61 lakh applications received through Form 7 were found genuine and the rest fake.
The CEO said that each of the applications for both inclusion and deletion of names would be verified before taking action and around 45,000 employees are on this duty. He said that the EC has also filed cases against 400 persons for falsely submitting deletion applications through Form 7. A total 8.76 lakh applications for deletion of names are under the security of EC, he said.