New Delhi: The concerns of opposition parties about electronic voting machines (EVM) have been buttressed by a report that nearly 19 lakh polling machines are “missing”. A report by news magazine Frontline pointed out that while records obtained by a Right to Information (RTI) activist have revealed that these machines were delivered by public sector undertakings BEL and ECIL, the Election Commission (EC) claimed that it never received them.
The story, which was published on May 9, refers to the issue in the backdrop of concerns around “vulnerability” and “unreliability” of EVMs. Moreover, it notes that 21 opposition parties have demanded that EVM results be matched with 50% of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trails (VVPAT) in each assembly segment to ensure fairness in the voting process.
The report relied on a public interest litigation (PIL) on EVMs filed in the Bombay high court and the EC’s response in the matter. It said the PIL, filed by Manoranjan Roy in March 2018, was based entirely on data collected through the RTI Act and raised issues around the “processes involved in the procurement, storage and deployment of EVMs and VVPATs by the ECI and State Election Commissions (SECs)”.
Apart from highlighting financial irregularities of Rs 116.55 crore, the case also “brought out huge disparities between the accounting of the number of EVMs the ECI had received over a period of time and the supply records of the manufacturers.”
Providing a year-wise account of the supply of EVMs by BEL and ECIL and the claims of EC about receiving them, the report said, “in a span of around 15 years the ECI has not received 9,64,270 EVMs that BEL states to have delivered and 9,29,949 EVMs that ECIL affirms to have delivered to it.”
It noted that “the order and supply chart as presented in the Bombay High Court is a bewildering document.”
In a rejoinder sent to Frontline, the Election Commission said on May 9 that “there is no truth in the contention that RTI based Public Interest Petition in the Bombay High Court ‘points out that 20 lakh EVMs that the manufacturers affirm to have delivered are ‘missing’ from the possession of the Election Commission’.”
It claimed that the allegations of mismatches in the order and supplies thereof and the presumption that “the absence of proper system and infrastructure could lead to misplacement of EVMs along with misappropriation of funds” were “totally conjectural”.
The commission reiterated that “not a single EVM moves out of the designated warehouse without prior approval of the Commission and strict compliance to administrative protocols prescribed for movement of EVMs and VVPATs.”
Claiming to have a “robust EVM Management Software (EMS) through which the status of every EVM/VVPAT can be tracked on real time basis and only First-Level-Check cleared EVMs, properly logged in EMS, are used for poll purpose,” the commission said “this activity is done transparently with active participation of the political parties and contesting candidates”.
In a crucial submission, the Commission further stated:
“as far as, functions of State Election Commissions(SECs) are concerned, it is intimated that State Election Commissions are independent Constitutional bodies which are responsible for conducting local body elections. ECI has no jurisdiction in matters pertaining to the SECs. Any modification or development done by any PSU with regard to any EVM used or procured by any State Election Commission is outside the purview of the Election Commission of India.”
Responding to the EC, the correspondent, Venkitesh Ramakrishnan, wrote that “the mismatch between the order and supply of EVMs in the records of the ECI and the manufacturers …. was a specific point in the PIL which was highlighted in the article. The ECI response makes no reference to these numbers.”
He adds that the EC desisted from responding to another qualitative aspect of the information obtained through the RTI – the obvious mismatch between the data given by “multiple public authorities”.
Denying that the mismatch in numbers was conjectural, as claimed by EC, the writer said it was “based on numbers provided by different authorities, in response to RTI queries”.
As for the response that “the commission has a robust EVM management software” in place, the magazine asks why then “there have been regular media reports about the discovery of EVMs in places such as hotel rooms. If the claim about robust EMS is right, then these strange movements of EVMs should have been reported primarily by the ECI or related authorities. But, almost always, the media have reported appearance of EVMs in odd places.”
On the claim that the EC has no jurisdiction over the SECs which are responsible for conducting local body elections, the magazine asked on what parameters do they then interact for Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha elections.