Guwahati, Sept. 21: Assam has taken its first tentative step towards having photo electoral rolls (PER) with Dispur shortlisting the Kamrup (metropolitan) district for the launch of the pilot project.
The development assumes significance because Assam is the last state to join the PER bandwagon and if all goes according to plan, the 2014 Lok Sabha elections could see the debut of the photo electoral rolls in the state. Earlier attempts at introducing the photo voter list or the photo identity cards never took off mainly because of apprehension that it would affect the detection and deportation of illegal foreigners, sources said.
Kamrup (metro) deputy commissioner Ashutosh Agnihotri told The Telegraph that the groundwork for the pilot project had got under way and an action plan would soon be submitted to the state election department.
"We received an intimation to this effect from the department around 10 days back and have started work on it. The PER will be based on existing electoral rolls. No deadline has been set for its launch or completion yet. We have over 9.4 lakh voters in our district," he said.
Besides details of the voters in the existing electoral rolls, the PER will also have their photographs, helping those on election duty to prevent impersonation and to make the identification of voters smooth.
Sources said the Election Commission had mounted pressure on the state department soon after the Assembly elections in April this year to start the PER process so that it could be introduced in the next general elections. The PER was first introduced in the 2009 general elections, barring Nagaland, Assam and Jammu and Kashmir.
"After Dispur's consent, the Kamrup (metro) was shortlisted for the pilot project. Once the PER is completed for the state, we could gradually move towards having photo identity cards. Most probably the PER project will get under way in December. Bar-coded application forms will be issued and the same collected along with photographs. The National Informatics Centre (NIC) has developed the software to capture the photograph on the rolls," a source in the chief minister's office (CMO) said.
The All Assam Students' Union (AASU) was among the organisations opposed to photo identity cards till the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was updated, as it feared that it would help illegal foreigners get enlisted in the rolls. Even Dispur had agreed to AASU's demand.
The PER will be preceded by statewide summary revision of electoral rolls, beginning October 1. "For the first time, those seeking to get enlisted will have to submit their photographs. The application format is new, seeking information such as date of birth and telephone numbers. In a way, the summary revision will be the first step towards the statewide PER," the sources said.
The summary revision will mainly target teenagers. An awareness drive has already been launched in the districts.
The campaigns involve cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni, actors Jatin Bora and Nishita Goswami and singer Zubeen Garg.
Most feel that Dispur should ensure that the PER initiative goes beyond the pilot project stage. "See what has happened to the NRC project which was supposed to be completed in 2007. We have not been able to complete the pilot project till now. Dispur should pull all stops to complete both the projects so that we can move to the photo identity card stage," a source said.