Is your name on the voters' list? On polling day, can you vote without scurrying from booth to booth searching for your name? In Karnataka, much has been done in the past few months to make the electoral rolls more accurate. The municipal body in Bangalore, for instance, has been conducting fresh door-to-door enumeration and has deleted hundreds of thousands of names of people who have shifted residence or have died. But are the rolls perfect now?
To find the answer to this question, Vote Bengaluru (VB), a joint initiative of several citizens' groups in Bangalore such as Citizens' Action Forum, Citizens' Voluntary Initiative for the City of Bangalore (CIVIC), Karnataka Kolageri Nivasigala Samyukta Sanghatane (KKNSS), Public Affairs Centre and Swabhimana, asked Residents' Welfare Associations to inspect the latest electoral rolls of the local municipal body of the city, Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike, published on February 18. The revision was carried out as part of an annual exercise for updating electoral rolls, though this time it was done more intensively. The publishing of the rolls is significant as Assembly elections are due in Karnataka by May 28, when President's rule comes to an end. Municipal elections have also been overdue in Karnataka since November 2006.
VB firmly believes that making electoral rolls accurate is the first step in shifting the focus of elections from vote banks to issues that concern the people. But the latest round of surveys of electoral rolls threw up disappointing if unintentionally hilarious results. This is, unfortunately, typical of most electoral rolls across the country and is not an occurrence unique to Karnataka.
Repeating the same mistakes
Consider what CIVIC Bangalore and Shanthinagar Residents' Development Association (SHRED), both constituents of VB, found when they conducted a 'Check the Electoral Roll' campaign in Shanthinagar, Ward 70 of the Mahanagara Palike. One woman with two different husbands and a boy with two different fathers were shown as living in the same house! A father was shown as having three sons while he has only two.
Babu Abraham's family in Shanthinagar, living on Chowdappa Road, had given the Electoral Registration Officer of the area Forms 8 for correction of their address in 2004 and had retained the acknowledgements. But even this time, they found that their names were in the wrong Section, under Part 52, Section 2, Nanjappa Road, Serial Nos. 320-325. How could the same errors be repeated if a fresh enumeration had taken place as claimed? The study by CIVIC and SHRED reveals that the errors in electoral rolls were not only due to missing or bogus names, but a result of three fundamental anomalies. For one, the Polling Booth Area (PBA), also called Part, is not unique or exclusive, as a result of which the area or roads contained in one PBA are repeated in another. Worse still, it often does not encompass a geographically contiguous area. Second, the map that accompanies the PBA is neither geographically accurate nor drawn to scale.
Confusing the voter
These anomalies end up creating considerable confusion. First of all, as the map of the PBA is inaccurate, enumerators find it impossible to identify areas that he or she has to cover. Citizens too find it difficult to identify their PBA in the roll. As the geographical area defined as the polling booth area is not exclusive to one Part, streets and locations are repeated in different PBAs. This leads to overlapping of polling booth footprints. It also means that while your name appears in one PBA, your neighbour's name may appear in a different PBA.
For instance, in Shanthinagar (Assembly Constituency No. 84) Part No. 51, Section 12, Basappa Road, contains House Nos. 1 to 55. Part No. 52, Section 3, again has House Nos. 1 to 43 on Basappa Road, but with a completely different set of names. In addition, as Guru Ravindranath, secretary of Consumer Care Society of Banashankari 2nd Stage, who has studied Part Numbers 743 to 755 of Uttarahalli Assembly Constituency No. 89, points out, the house numbers given under various street headings are often not printed in a serial order, making it difficult for residents to locate their door number.
Areas that are not geographically contiguous are often clubbed together to form a Part. For instance, Part No. 51 of Shanthinagar, Bangiyappa Garden and its crossroads, which are in the north-eastern portion of Shanthinagar layout, are clubbed with sections of KH Road and Basappa Road, which are in the south-west corner of Shanthinagar. The areas in between have been omitted but the maps accompanying the Part have been manipulated to depict the areas as contiguous.
Besides, in many cases, maps do not show all the roads existing in the area, or show roads that are not listed in the Part. For instance, some names listed as being in Part 46, Section 5, Langford Road (serial numbers 994 to 1027) actually belong to Langford Road Cross, a small crossroad off Langford Road. But this crossroad is not shown on the map at all and a false impression is created that all these people are living on the main road, Langford Road. Or, as Ravindranath notes, a road marked on the map, 9th Main, 24th Cross, BSK 2nd Stage, is not listed as a Section in the Part under which it should feature.
Similarly, in the map accompanying Part 46 of Shanthinagar, Swasthi Main Road, Swasthi Road 1st Cross, Swasthi Road 2nd Cross and Bheemanna Garden (Sections 1 to 4) are shown as being directly linked to Langford Road (Section 5), which is not correct. In Part 47, Shanthi Road is shown as being perpendicular to KH Road, while in reality the former runs parallel to the latter. Andree Road, which is a T-shaped road, is shown as a straight line in the map. A single road is marked as 1st to 7th Cross Lakshmi Road on the map, which is not the case. It is a wonder how assistant revenue officers, who are gazetted officers, can sign and certify these maps.
SR Venkatram of Supraja, a residents' welfare association, and Federation of Associations of Ward 50, Basavanagudi, say that the names of persons living on North Public Square have been shown under BP Wadia Road and Krishna Road. The names of those living on Basappa Road and Chowdappa Road are shown under Nanjappa Road in Shanthinagar. Though all this had been brought to the notice of the BMP two years ago, these errors have not been corrected. PL Rao, a resident and office-bearer of Prashanthnagar Residents' Welfare Association of Binnypet Assembly Constituency, says, "Seventy percent of the list is wrong but it's not due to missing or bogus names. Most errors pertain to names being shown under wrong street headings."
There does not seem to be any logic, rhyme or reason in the way Sections have been created within a Part. Names of 'lay-outs' containing several roads are given under single Section headings such as Akkithimmanahalli Layout or Bangiyappa Garden. How does one search for one's name in this situation? Individual flat numbers within apartment complexes, such as C-1 and D-1, are shown as street door numbers. The same roads have been listed under different names such as Lakshmi Main Road and Lakshmi Road, though they are one and the same.
Part 50 of Shanthinagar has some of the most confusing nomenclature for Sections. Section 14 is titled 'Nanjappa Rd. Church Rd. Basappa Rd', though these are three long, independent roads. There are also separate Sections (12, 13 and 18) for each of these roads in the same Part. Why has no consolidation been done? Non-existent or confusing nomenclature for roads has also been given as Section headings, such as 'Lakshmi Mn. Rd. I Cross Rd. Swasthi Rd' and '3rd 4th Cross Rd. Church Rd', 'Bangiyappa Garden Lakshmi Rd. 1-7th Cross', 'Lakshmi Rd. I Cross to 8th Cross Rd' and 'Shanthinagar 6th Cross, Lakshmi Rd. 7th Cross', none of which make any sense. Part 54, Section 18, is simply titled 'Shanthinagar', with no address given.
Sometimes, old revenue names or names given in municipal khatas such as Yellamma Garden and Thayappa Garden have been used as Section headings instead of the current postal address of the road. At the same time, the postal addresses of the same area have also been listed as different Sections. A family that had given their address, with address proof, as St Michael's School Road, found that the parents' names had been put under Thayappa Garden and the children's names under Rachappa Garden.
The way out
As a corrective measure, VB has suggested several reforms in the preparation of electoral rolls. Memoranda with recommendations were faxed to the Chief Election Commissioner in New Delhi and the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO)-Karnataka R Ramaseshan on February 10 and 26, 2008. A delegation from VB also met Ramaseshan and apprised him of the errors.
The suggested reforms include re-organising Parts and drawing them up afresh, an absolute necessity if the roll has to be accurate. A Part should encompass a particular, contiguous geographical area that does not overlap with other PBAs. Incidentally, this was also one of the recommendations made by the Second Administrative Reforms Commission, which submitted its recommendations to the Centre recently, and was headed by Congress leader Veerappa Moily, ex-chief minister of Karnataka.
VB has recommended that a Section within a Part should encompass only a particular portion of a single road, which is not replicated in any other Part or in another Section of the same Part. It should also not list a conglomeration or combination of roads. While delimiting Assembly constituencies, the municipal ward could be taken as the building block. Currently, a single municipal ward such as Padmanabhanagar for instance, is split between three Assembly constituencies.
Ideally, Sections should be created such that no road is repeated in any other Section. But if there is a long road that has to necessarily appear in several Parts or Sections, VB has suggested that each portion of the road in the different Part or Section be given a unique identification number, such as Lakshmi Road (1st portion) and Lakshmi Road (2nd portion). This identification number could also be written on the citizen's voter identity card so that voters do not have to scout around booths looking for their names.
Any one system, preferably the latest postal address, could be used for Section headings and house numbers instead of revenue names and numbers. The names of persons living in apartment complexes could be given under a separate heading bearing the apartment's name. The individual flat numbers could appear against the names of flat-dwellers.
When officials are questioned about why such measures are not followed, there is all-round passing of the buck. Those on the ground agree that there's a desperate need for change and express their willingness to make alterations. However, they say that though they have informed higher-ups about the need to draw the Parts and Sections afresh, the officials or the printers have not given them permission to modify them. They are given the old, erroneous lists and asked to work within that framework, they claim. Higher officials, on the other hand, blame the ground level officials for the sad state of affairs, saying that it is their sheer apathy and unwillingness to work that are causing all the problems.
This is why VB has emphasised that none of the changes it has proposed will work unless strict action is taken and/or monetary penalty imposed on officials for every error, be it duplication of names or inclusion of the same portions of roads in various Parts or Sections. VB is convinced that unless these fundamental anomalies are set right, any number of door-to-door surveys will not produce voters' lists that are 100 percent accurate. VB has hence requested the Chief Election Commissioner, New Delhi, to extend the dates for the finalisation of the rolls of Karnataka, so that it will be possible to correct these structural anomalies. Only then will an accurate framework be provided for the correct listing of voters' names.