Government seeks voter data for vaccine drive, EC agrees

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Written by Ritika Chopra , Kaunain Sheriff M | New Delhi | January 15, 2021 1:17:57 am

Health workers carry boxes containing Covid-19 vaccines at a hospital cold storage facility in Srinagar. (Express photo by Shuaib Masoodi)

THE ELECTION Commission (EC) has agreed to a request from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to share electoral roll data for identifying the age group targeted for the first phase of the Covid-19 vaccination drive, sources told The Indian Express.

The Commission, sources said, is now waiting for a response on the specific data required by the Ministry.

According to the Government’s blueprint, the vaccine will be offered first to healthcare workers, frontline workers and those above 50 years of age, followed by those below 50 with associated comorbidities. The priority group of above 50 may be further divided into those above 60 and those between 50 and 60 for a phased rollout.

According to sources, the EC’s electoral roll data has been sought to identify people above the age of 50 in each polling station. The EC is now working on a format of sharing to protect elector privacy, they said.

“One option being considered is that we provide booth-wise information of voters above the age of 50 to the respective states, as opposed to handing over information of all states to one agency,” said an official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla’s request to the Commission came after a meeting between representatives of the Health Ministry and the EC last month.

According to sources, the Health Ministry wanted to understand the structure of the election machinery and how polls are conducted at the grassroots level. This was done since the vaccination drive will be similar to the election process given the similarities in the scale of the two operations.

But under the National Disaster Management Act, the MHA is the nodal central agency coordinating with all state governments to contain the pandemic and ensure a uniform approach.

Last month, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora had told The Indian Express that the EC is open to offering assistance, if sought by the system, in administering the vaccine.

Speaking at the Idea Exchange programme, Arora had said the ongoing pandemic is an unprecedented national crisis that requires “exceptional and extraordinary” response.

“Currently, we do not have any legal authority (to assist in the administration of the vaccine). To conduct elections, we are empowered under Article 324. But having said that, given the experience and expertise we have, if someone reaches out to us for a national cause, we will take a call,” he had said.

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