Mooted in 1950s, photo voter cards debuted in '93

Mooted in 1950s, photo voter cards debuted in '93

While the voter cards with photos came into being in 1993, the idea was first mooted soon after the second general elections in 1957 by West Bengal government to "completely root out the evil" of bogus voters.

First mooted in the late 1950s and shelved soon after, the photo identity card for voters became a reality only after a gestation period of 35 years when T N Seshan was Chief Election Commissioner.

While the voter cards with photos came into being in 1993, the idea was first mooted soon after the second general elections in 1957 by West Bengal government to "completely root out the evil" of bogus voters.

The Bengal government felt that if successfully implemented, no voter can be impersonated. It proposed that every voter in the constituencies in Kolkata and its suburbs should be given identity cards bearing their photographs.

The then Chief Election Commissioner Sukumar Sen was enthusiastic to the idea and initially decided to try it on an experimental basis in two Assembly constituencies in Kolkata to ascertain its practicability and the cost.

The idea was to provide a voter with an I-card bearing his or her photograph. One copy would be retained by the election office and used at the time of the poll.

In 1961, the government made amendments to the Representation of the People Act 1951 and relevant rules while the Election Commission chose Calcutta South-West Parliamentary Lok Sabha seat where a bypoll was due for the exercise.

Chief Election Commissioner K V K Sundaram recalled the exercise in his report on the 1962 General Elections that had to be aborted after finding out that it would "not be practicable to operate the system satisfactorily" on a large scale either in Kolkata or elsewhere in the country.

Another consideration for burying the project was the estimation that the expenditure for Kolkata alone would be Rs 25 lakh, which would be "an appreciable addition to the national expenditure on the conduct of elections".

During the exercise in Calcutta South-West, only 2,13,600 out of a total of 3,42,000 voters could be effectively photographed, and identity cards with photographs attached could be issued only to 2,10,000.

"Thus, three out of eight electors could not be provided with identity cards. The main reason for this was that an appreciable section of women electors refused to be photographed either by men or women photographers. A section of the voters could not be found at their places of residence from early morning till late at night," Sundaram said.

The Commission also realised that to aim to “prevent impersonation in Calcutta City could have been achieved only by extending” photo I-cards to all the five parliamentary constituencies of Kolkata and Howrah, which then had an electorate of more than 20 lakh.

"After a careful consideration of the machinery available to the Commission for the purpose and after consulting the Government, the Commission came to the conclusion that it would not be practicable to operate the system satisfactorily on a large scale either in Calcutta or elsewhere in the country," he wrote in the report published in 1965.