Karnataka voters' survey row: A controversy erupted in Karnataka on Thursday over a voters' survey in the city with opposition Congress alleging corrupt electoral practice in it and demanded the Chief Minister's resignation, while the city's civic body announced terminating the permission given to the private entity involved in the exercise.
The Congress demanded the resignation of CM Basavaraj Bommai, alleging he is directly responsible for the corrupt electoral practice by assigning the private entity to collect door-to-door voter information.
As a row erupted over the issue, the BBMP said Chilume Educational Cultural and Rural Development Trust had violated the conditions and announced terminating the permission given to it to conduct a door-to-door visit to "create awareness" among the public on online application via Voter Helpline Mobile App pertaining to Voter ID.
Congress general secretary and the party's Karnataka in-charge Randeep Singh Surjewala alleged at a press conference here that Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) authorised the private firm in August to carry out a door-to-door survey of voters 'free of cost' and that it gathered information on people's gender, mother tongue and collected voter ID and Aadhaar details.
"Chilume Educational and Rural Development Institute applied for permission to conduct voter awareness drive of the Election Commission.
Firstly, the permission was given for Mahadevapura Assembly constituency and it was then extended to all 28 assembly constituencies of Bengaluru vide a government order dated August 20, 2022," the AICC general secretary claimed.
Further, Chilume is connected with and owned by common owners and directors of two other entities, including Chilume Enterprises Private Limited, he said.
"Chilume Enterprises claims to be an ‘Election Management Company’ including working for ‘EVM preparation etc for political parties’.
This is unique. I have never heard this before," Surjewala said.
Alleging "the chief minister was the conduit of the electoral fraud," he said, "there has to be an FIR against Basavaraj Bommai and he should be arrested." The cache of data was not fed into the Garuda application of the government but into an application 'Digital Sameeksha' of the private firm, Surjewala charged.
The firm also appointed hundreds of Booth Level Officers (BLO), which technically should be government-appointed persons, said Surjewala, adding these BLOs were also given identity cards resembling those being possessed by government employees.
"We want to know who permitted a private entity to conduct the survey on behalf of the BBMP, who recommended the government to give such contract to a private entity and why the antecedents of the contractor was not checked," Surjewala said.
He also wondered why an advertisement was not ordered to be issued by Bommai or the election authorities before giving the work to a private entity.
The AICC general secretary also sought to know how a private entity was permitted to collect personal voter information like caste, religion, age, gender, mother tongue, marital status, Aadhaar number, phone number, address, voter ID number and email addresses of the voters.
"Is it not a clear-cut theft, breach of privacy and fraud played upon innocent voters. How can the contracted employees of a private entity be permitted to impersonate as government officers by being issued BLO cards," Surjewala asked.
Can the personal data of voters be uploaded by a private entity on its private app, which supposedly is used by political parties, MPs, MLAs, councillors and aspirants for political usage on payment, he wondered.
"The 40 per cent commission Sarkar (Congress' barb at the BJP government in the context of corruption) has now corrupted the election process also.
Shocking expose has revealed that those sitting in the citadels of power, including the chief minister, are overtly and covertly responsible for theft of voter data, fraud and impersonation through brazen misdemeanours," Surjewala alleged.
Former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who accompanied Surjewala said his party would lodge a police complaint and demanded the government ordered an inquiry into the matter under the supervision of the Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court.
Congress' state president D K Shivakumar alleged such surveys took place across Karnataka and it was not limited only to Bengaluru city.
As the issue snowballed into a major controversy, the BBMP terminated its permission given to Chilume.
In a statement, the civic agency said in view of the Special Summary Revision–2023 activities, permission had been granted to Chilume Educational Cultural and Rural Development Trust for conducting the house-to-house visit to create awareness among the general public towards applying online applications via voter helpline mobile app pertaining to Voter ID, in co-ordination with BLOs, Electoral Registration Officers and Assistant Electoral Registration Officers of District Election Officer, Bengaluru.
"However, the above-said trust has violated the conditions of the permission. Therefore, the permission has been withdrawn with immediate effect.
Hence, we hereby appeal to the general public not to share their voter ID details to the representatives of the trust,” the statement read.