A controversy has flared up in Karnataka over a non-governmental organization collecting voter information by posing as officials of the Karnataka government. The data theft was apparently enabled by a Government Order that allowed the NGO to ‘create awareness’ about voter rights and revision of electoral rolls.
Members of the organization were reportedly equipped with copies of a ‘government order’ and fake ID cards for hundreds of agents that claimed they were ‘booth level officers’. They then collected voters’ personal information – including caste, mother tongue, marital status, age, gender, employment, and education details, as well as Aadhaar, phone and voter ID numbers and e-mail addresses, the report said.
Chilume Educational Cultural and Rural Development Institute was registered in 2013 as an NGO by five individuals. also started a private company called DAP Hombale in December 2017. While no documents related to DAP Hombale could be found on the Ministry of Corporate Affairs website, in January 2018, the three directors registered another company called Chilume Enterprises Pvt Ltd.
According to the NGO’s website, it offers “Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) and counting hall preparation, CCTV installation, webcasting and check-post preparation, and temporary polling personnel from virtually every branch of government” for political parties.
The NGO had received permission from the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), Bengaluru’s civic body, to conduct a “special voter awareness” drive ahead of state Assembly polls next year. It was asked to conduct the SVEEP (Systematic Voters Education and Electoral Participation) awareness drive to revise the electoral rolls ahead of the polls.
The data stolen from citizens as part of the operation has enormous commercial value and private corporations would vie to pay top dollar for it. For a politician looking to win an election by any means, this data is priceless.
Alarmingly, from the same room in a building in Bengaluru’s Malleshwaram, the group also operates a voter survey app called ‘Digital Sameeksha’. Instead of educating the public about the Election Commission’s voter registration applications such as Garuda and Voter Helpline, Chilume’s workers uploaded voters’ personal information into Digital Sameeksha, including caste, religion, mother tongue, education, marital status and political grievances.
The News Minute raised several questions on how these events unfolded. The news agency questioned if Chilume was not charging any money from the government for this work, where did they find the funds for this massive activity? The fact that the same people who service politicians also run an NGO which illegally compiles voters’ databases raises disturbing questions about the entire election machinery. Also, if the data collected by Chilume has not been submitted to the BBMP, then where is the data? At whose behest was it collected?
Immediately after the news broke, the BBMP said that the permission given to Chilume was withdrawn over alleged irregularities. “The NGO was permitted to create awareness among voters regarding the electoral roll. The permission has been withdrawn after complaints over unauthorized data collection and as it broke the terms of the agreement” said BBMP.
Citing this controversy, The Congress in Karnataka today demanded the resignation of Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, alleging he is directly responsible for a corrupt electoral practice by assigning a private entity to collect door-to-door voter information. Alleging that “the Chief Minister was the conduit of the electoral fraud, there has to be an FIR against Basavaraj Bommai and he should be arrested” said Randeep Surjewala.
CM Bommai refuted the charges and said Congress was bankrupt with ideas. He asserted he was ready to face an inquiry and also investigate Congress allegations on Chilume.