Laws relating to voter ID card : Responsibility of Election Commission
Advocate Shadeka Jahan
Identity cards, which are in use, in one form or another in numerous countries around the world, have some different functions and integrity. And certainly that vary enormously. Around a hundred countries have official, compulsory, national IDs that are used for a variety of purposes. Many developed countries, however, do not have such a card. Bangladesh is one of them. There are varieties of reasons for having ID cards. Race, politics and religion were often at the heart of older ID systems. ID card is a necessary tool in modern vote system.
Now the point of Bangladesh perspective. Bangladesh has an election commission established under article 118 of the Constitution and its function has been defined in Article 119 of the Constitution. Article 119 briefly discusses the duties of election commission. Further under section 11A of the Electoral Roll Act 1982 the election commission is under statutory mandate to prepare and distribute Voter ID Card to every voter/elector.
In 1994 the relevant laws were amended and in order to fulfil the objective of the said provision of law it was included that no voter would be given a ballot paper in the polling station unless he/she has a valid identity card. Then the election commission constituted a project for preparation and distribution of voter's identity card. In 1995 the work of this project started and accordingly tender was invited through newspaper and then a work order was issued and the parties concerned went for the work and prepared many ID cards and the election commission also distributed those to some voters. But in 1997, for political reasons, the preparation and distribution of voter ID card was stopped. The project was altogether cancelled in 2000 on the allegations of corruption and on information that fake voters had received ID cards. But in Article 119(2) of the Constitution it is clearly shown that the election commission shall perform such functions as may be prescribed by this Constitution or by any other Law and as such Election Commission is under legal authorisation to arrange and allocate voter ID Card.
Then Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), a human rights organisation, filed a writ petition under the High Court Division of the Supreme Court against Election Commission and Project Director of Voter ID Card Project. Justice M.M Haq and Justice Khairul Haq issued a rule nisi on 7th of September 1998 calling upon the respondents to show cause as to why they shall not be directed to prepare and distribute Voter ID Card within a reasonable period and or before election of Pourashava likely to be held within September 1998 and that decision of suspension of Voter ID Card project was not permitted by law and thus of no legal effect. The case is still pending for hearing before the High Court Division of the Supreme Court.
Many countries of the world are adopting modern voting systems. Even India also successfully held its general elections by using electronic voting machines. Voter ID Card is one of the tools for modern voting system. But even then this is a matter of distress that we could not follow that system. After adopting the project of Voter ID Card we had two general elections in 1996 and 2001 and also some other elections but could not be able to start the ID card system. Now we have to prepare for another general election. But we don't have any preparation for ID card which is essential for fair election. We hope election commission will be concerned about the matter as early as possible.
The author is working for Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST).