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ECI Denies VVPATs ‘Defective’, Says Only 3.4 Lakh Machines Need ‘Preventive Maintenance'

However, ECI documents say 6.5 lakh VVPAT machines are ‘defective’ and being sent to the manufacturer for repairs.

New Delhi: The Election Commission of India (ECI) has said that 3.4 lakh Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines require “preventive maintenance”.

However, The Wire had reported on April 18, citing ECI documents, that 6.5 lakh VVPAT machines are ‘defective’.

These are the latest M3 generation machines of which 37% were “defective”, per the ECI documents. These machines need to be sent back to the manufacturer for rectifying the defects.

However, in some places, it appears that the defective machines are being replaced with new ones instead of the ones that have been repaired.

A letter exchanged between ECI officials and representatives of political parties in one state, which was seen by The Wire, clearly says that these are new machines.

However, representatives of political parties involved in the first level checking (FLC) or commissioning of the machines say, “Any defects are detected when the machine is first brought for an FLC or at the time when the candidate has been announced and the machine is commissioned. During the election process, if a machine is found to be defective, it is automatically weeded out. The machines kept in strongrooms are always those that have been cleared as functional.”

Unnamed officials at the ECI told PTI that the defective VVPATs mean they only stop functioning during the poll process. It does not give erroneous results, they told the news agency. The ECI said it could not check these machines earlier because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ECI has still not responded to The Wire’s questionnaire on this matter.

Reacting to claims that the machines could not be properly tested due to the pandemic, the representatives cited above said, “Elections were held during COVID-19 as well and the process of weeding out defective machines was followed even then.”

ECI officials also told mediapersons that some machines have more than one defect, which is why the number of machines that are defective are higher than the functional ones.

The defects, as noted by the ECI, are called T1, T2, T3, T4 defects.

But going by the ECI’s own letter, it appears that entire series are being replaced. For instance, among machines that will be sent to the Electronics Corporation of India Limited, Hyderabad, the series beginning EVTEA 0001 to EVTEA 99999 have been marked as ‘defective’. So also are the rest of the series, namely, EVTEB, EVTEC, EVTED, each comprising a batch of 99999 machines.

Similarly, the machines which will be sent back to Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), Bengaluru, have been also marked as ‘defective’. These machines fall under the series BVTAK 00001 to BVTAK 30000, BVTEA 00001 to BVTEA 30000, and BVTEC 05001 to BVTEC 75000, among others.

In all, 2.53 lakh machines from BEL have been found to be ‘defective’. Of them, the series BVTEH 00001 to BVTEH 68500 will be sent to BEL in Panchkula.

These are M3 machines which were first introduced in 2018 and were used in the 2019 elections as well.

To put this in perspective, in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, a total of 17.4 lakh VVPATs were notified for use for the Lok Sabha polls and also for the assembly elections being held simultaneously. This means that over one-third (37%) of these machines have now been found to be defective by the Election Commission.

PTI reported that after the 2019 polls, a technical expert committee, along with BEL and Electronics Corporation of India, carried out an exhaustive analysis of the performance of VVPAT machines. But the analysis got delayed due to the pandemic.

The analysis concluded that some corrective actions were required to improve the performance of M3 VVPATs.