Jammu: The principal, district and session judge Jammu on Wednesday issued notice to the Election Commission of India (ECI) on a petition seeking cancellation of the recent municipal elections.
The petitioner, advocate Sanjeev Kumar Sareen, has alleged that antiquated electronic voting machines (EVMs) were used during the municipal elections despite clear-cut guidelines from the Supreme Court that only those EVMs which include voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) should be used.
Notices were also issued to the chief electoral officer of Jammu and Kashmir, chief secretary Jammu and Kashmir and all corporators, as well as the mayor and deputy mayor. The court has said that objections to the petition are to be filed on the next hearing date, January 8.
Purnima Shama, advocate and deputy mayor of the Jammu Municipal Corporation refused, in writing, to accept the court summons. The petition was filed on November 13, and admitted by the court on November 28.
The petition demands that the municipal elections held in J&K be declared null and void because of the use of invalidated M1 EVMs. Although the EC has given instructions for the destruction of these M1 EVMs because they are not tamper-proof, they were used in the state municipal elections.
Elections to the municipal bodies of J&K were held in four phases from October 8, 2018 to October 16, 2018. The results were declared on October 20, 2018.
Earlier, ballot boxes were used for holding urban local body elections in J&K, as mandated by the Jammu and Kashmir Municipal Corporation Act. This Act was amended during the governor’s rule in 2016. According to the new rules, elections were to be held with EVMs instead of ballot boxes. Rules pertaining to the design of the EVMs were also added, making it obligatory to use M3 EVMs or EVMs with a paper trail in the elections.
However, the CEO of J&K used M1 EVMs and breached these new rules. There were several other irregularities in the conduct of the elections, the petitioner has alleged.
The petitioner has said that he gave a representation to the CEO pleading that elections be conducted either through ballot papers or M3 EVMs. He even referred to Supreme Court judgements about the use of EVMs. The petitioner has said that he gave this representation to all concerned quarters well before the elections began in J&K on October 8.
Vinod Chatterjee Koul, principal, district and session judge, heard the election petition. In a jam-packed courtroom, counsels for the defendants and petitioner were present as the proceedings began.
The petitioner, Sanjeev Kumar Sareen, told The Wire, “We live in a democratic country which is known all over the world for its robust electoral system. Why were discarded and disbanded EVMs used in Jammu and Kashmir in the first place? And if there was no issue with the EVMs, why are the same not being used for the panchayat elections. Why didn’t the governor, who amended the municipal corporation Act, amend the panchayat Act?”
He further said, “The argument that the EVMs which were used for ULB elections were tamper-proof falls flat when one is told that panchayat elections are being held with ballot boxes. My grievance is the manner in which elections were held. Apart from EVMs, there were several other irregularities that I have mentioned in my petition. There was breach of the model code of conduct, and no training was provided to the returning officer and assistant returning officers either.”
“Results from these machines have shaken the confidence of the common man because these EVMs can be hacked. There is no democracy left in India if elections cannot be conducted in a free and fair manner. The only hope now is that the judiciary give relief and the media highlight this issue as one of utmost importance,” said Sareen.
Pallavi Sareen is a freelance journalist working in Jammu and Kashmir who writes for Kashmir Times and Kashmir Life. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.