Rules, Spirit, and Common Sense

It is a pleasant task to thank the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) for implementing one of my suggestions on Search Your Name page. Now, the queries at ttp:// return less false negatives. It has also allayed the fears of his IT specialist that thousands of unwieldy results would throw up if he made the suggested changes. I have been suggesting several other simple risk-free changes to make the system more usable for the citizens and offering my help in implementing any of the changes I suggest. Some more people have shown interest in this task. 

BBMP Elections were held in April 2010. State Election Commissioner (SEC), Karnataka, took the electoral rolls from CEO, Karnataka, and then revised them. In a meeting with him then, he had blamed the CEO for errors in the voter lists. If he had added names to the lists, or deleted duplicate and fake entries, we would expect him to give the valuable information to CEO. The CEO and SEC both have a common goal of facilitating fair and free elections where all the eligible citizens could participate.

In 2010, BBMP voters list had 68.97 lakh voters. Current draft voter lists of 27 constituencies of Bangalore District, have only 63.08 lakh voters – 8.5% less voters in two years. I sought help of CEO to understand the reason for the reduction in the count of voters. The CEO answered, “During BBMP elections, the task of publishing the electoral rolls for the wards vests with the State Election Commission. The Draft Electoral rolls for the Assembly Constituencies in Bangalore City have been  published by the Election Commission of India. Therefore there are bound to be differences.
Unless we go into specifics, we cannot hazard any guesses on the reasons.

We do not want hazardous guesses, but want diligent analysis to see why some genuine voters have  disappeared from the list while even quadruplicate entries persist.

Subsequently I read more documents on CEO’s website and learnt that the voter count for the 27
constituencies in 2008 Assembly Elections was 65,00,068. Asian Development Bank study reported that with a population growth of 2.8% per year, Bangalore is the second fastest growing city of India. At 2.8% growth per year, the voters in Bangalore now would have been more than 71 lakhs. Instead, it shows reduction of 1.92 lakh voters. This suggests an error of about 7 lakh voters, 9.85% of 71 lakh. I have written to CEO giving example of genuine voters removed from the list and evidences of duplicate voters. This is a grave concern to the citizens. Is a possible exclusion of 9.85% voters a reason enough for the CEO to investigate?  

“Handbook for Electoral Registration Officers,” published by Election Commission in 1993 is highly reassuring to the citiznes of India.

  •  “Distribute Working Copy of Roll to BLOs, BLAs, and make it available to voters by various means including distribution of pamphlets with newspapers”
  • “The accuracy of the electoral rolls mainly depends on you and the machinery under your charge. Even a slight mistake, lapse or wrong application of the law or rules may affect the accuracy of the electoral rolls. You have a vital role to play in the entire process of the revision of rolls and maintenance of the rolls up-to-date.”
  • “The displaying of draft rolls should be governed by the public convenience rather than administrative facilities.”

“Instruction Manual for Standardization of Electoral Roll Database ( Ver 1.0 )” states “Transliteration into English – To comply with instructions of the Commission to have bi-lingual database in all States/UTs, they will have to use standard transliterations software to transliterate regional language information into English.” Voter information is available with CEO in English.

The book also states, “According to the extant policy, the electoral rolls of an Assembly Constituency, where more than 20% of the electors speak and use a different language than the official language and the number of people literate in that minority language and script is significantly large, shall be printed and published in the majority as well as that minority language.”

When I requested the CEO to make the electoral rolls available in English on his website, he told me that the legally he cannot provide them in English,  quoting the above rule,. We are referring to a rule of 1960 when there were no PCs and no PDF files. Printing could be restricted to save money; we appreciate it. Why can’t we have English version of electoral rolls of all the constituencies on the website? Is there a hint in the rules or guidelines? It does not cost anything. Interpreting the rules in a way to cause inconvenience to the citizens is against the spirit of the rules.

Quoting the rules by spirit, CEO should print electoral rolls of 11 constituencies in Kannada and Marathi, 2 in Kannada and Urdu.  We do not find the Marathi and Urdu versions online. They are available only in Kannada.

Whereas the “Instruction Manual for Standardization of Electoral Roll Database (Ver 1.0)” issued by the Election
Commission on page 29 says that age of voter would be an integer in the range of 18 to 120, we have 1,741 voters below the age of 18 and 188 voters above the age of 120. If the process ignores even such simple validations, how do we trust other data that we cannot verify? Why does CEO violates the rules in such
simple cases?

In the UK, a law was passed which prohibited selling of goods on Sundays in “shops and places other than shops.” Sir Ernest Gowers gives an example in his classic The Complete Plain Words, “To a reader with the Act before him (and he cannot expect to understand it unless he has) the meaning that this subsection conveys is precise: it says unambiguously that certain provisions of the Act apply to trading only in shops and that all the others apply to trading not only in shops, but also in any place that is not a shop. The trouble in this case arose
not from any obscurity in the words quoted, but from the penumbra round the word place used in another Section. The Court held that it was not as large as the draftsman had thought. He had naturally assumed
that, when he had covered both sales in shops and sales places that are not shops, he had left nothing outside. But he was wrong. He forgot the stop-me-and-buy-one man. The Court held that the ice-cream vendor’s tricycle is neither a shop nor a place; and the bit of ground on which it happens to be standing is not a place either. His sales are therefore outside both categories, and he escapes the meshes of the Act.”

“Rules,” I said, “are necessary things, but there are rules and rules. Some are hard and fast rules, like the rules of the road, which cannot be broken without danger to life and
limb. But some are only rules for guidance, which you can apply or wink at, as common sense dictates – like the rule about the dogs. They are not whip put in your hand to scourge your passengers. They are meant to be observed in spirit, not in the letter – for the comfort and not the discomfort fo the passengers. You have kept the rule and broken the spirit. You want to mix your rules with a little goodwill and good temper.”

– A.G. Gardiner (1856– 1946)

The more transparent and easy access we get for information, the more constructive feedback we can give and
also take part in improving the system. If the system runs on strings of excuses for inaccuracies, we kill the spirit of free and fair elections. We hope that the CEO considers the spirit of the rules and acts “governed by the public convenience rather than administrative facilities” as advised by the EC.


About pgbhat

A retired Naval Officer and an educationist. Has experience with software industry. A guest faculty at different institutes and a corporate trainer with software development companies.
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