Dr. Sabrina Chowdhury, the chairman of JKG Health Care, has recently been alleged by the Election Commission (EC) for having made two national identity (NID) cards back in 2016 through forgery. In relation to this incident, the name of Professor Dr Mizanur Rahman, the former chairman of National Human Rights Commission, has appeared in mass media being quoted by the Technical Expert of EC's National Identity Registration Wing who stated that Dr Mizan's visiting card was found along with the application of Dr Sabrina. The EC has already formed an inquiry committee to investigate the matter, and the Senior Secretary of EC said that "if someone lobbies unjustly, it is a wrong. If such a person is found being involved in this incident, he/she will also be made an accused under the National Identity Registration Act 2010." (banglanews24.com, 4 September 2020). In this juncture, the incident has given birth to a legal question as to whether someone's reference/recommendation is an essential requirement for obtaining an NID card. In this backdrop, the present write-up intends to scrutinise the matter in light of applicable laws and rules which deal with issuing NID cards by the EC. In other words, the write-up aims to present the status of so-called 'reference' in the eyes of NID-related legal framework.
To begin with, the National Identity Registration Act 2010 clearly declares that "obtaining NID card from the EC" is a "right". A citizen of Bangladesh who is eligible to be a voter under the Electoral Enrollment Act 2010 can obtain an NID as a matter of his/her right through following the prescribed procedures (section 6). The National Identity Registration Rules 2014 explains the procedure for obtaining an NID card, which does not require any kind of reference and/or recommendation from anyone in order to receive an NID card.
As stated earlier, obtaining an NID card is a right, and therefore, the EC has a statutory obligation to issue an NID card to any citizen who is eligible to be a voter. This obligation is not subject to any reference/recommendation. An applicant can obtain an NID card irrespective of his/her other status or qualification and there is no need of any sort of reference/recommendation.
As per the National Identity Registration Rules 2014, a citizen who is eligible to be a voter but not yet listed as a voter has to make an application through Form No. 1 (attached with the Rules) to the EC (Rule No. 3). Upon submitting the application, an officer of EC will proceed with the necessary steps such as identifying the applicant, checking the information provided by the applicant, verifying the information and issuing the NID card (Rule No. 3). The applicant has to provide his/her detailed address (es); parents' and spouse's names and their NID numbers; TIN, passport and driving license numbers and other bulk of detailed information. The Form contains a part that needs to be filled in by the officers and employees of the EC. This part bears the NID numbers and signatures of the Identifier (not referee) of the applicant, the Information/Data collector, the Supervisor of the proceedings and the Data Entry Operator. The name, NID number and signature of the Verifier of the provided data must be included as well. The Form ends with the name and signature of the assigned Registration Officer.
If any irregularities arise regarding any application, it is an effortless task to identify the officers and employees who are actually responsible for such irregularities. Under the National Identity Registration Act, if any officer or staff of EC, in administering any activities related to NID card, is found negligent to discharge his/her duties, or distort or destroy any information, he/she shall be punished with imprisonment as well as fine (sections 16-17). The law does not contain any provision for referee or any mention of recommendation or reference as it did not anticipate any necessity for it.
It seems that certain officials of the EC, without identifying its officials and employees responsible for the incident, is finding comfort in passing the blame to a well-reputed academic like Professor Dr Mizan. In doing so, the officials seemingly even did not put much effort to come up with a less hallucinatory story than the story of reference for issuing an NID card. A visiting card of Professor Dr Mizan has been found, but not the names of the officials whose names, NID numbers and signatures were supposed to be on the application form and who were actually engaged with the duty to carry forward.
To end, the simple stand of law is that when an application for NID is submitted coupled with required documents, the onus is upon the NID issuing authority to carefully verify such application as well as submitted documents. And, if there is any confusion and/or misinformation, the authority can always ask for clarification from the applicant who is solely responsible to prove his/her eligibility with the help of public and legal documents. Hence, the so-called reference/recommendation has no legal basis for obtaining an NID card.
The Writer is a Lecturer in Law, East West University.