THE ELECTION Commission of India has decided to link all Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) with Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines in the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections, scheduled to be held towards the end of this year. According to sources in the EC, this decision was taken sometime back and orders for the new machines have been placed.
VVPAT machines produce a printout of the vote cast using an EVM. The printout is deposited in a box and can be used to resolve any dispute regarding the election. “We will need a maximum of 80,000 VVPAT machines in these two states. We already have 55,500, and orders have been placed with the two companies to begin manufacturing the rest. With demands being made by many political parties for holding all future elections with 100 per cent VVPAT machine-connected EVMs, the EC has taken this decision,” a senior EC functionary told The Indian Express.
After the BJP’s victory in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections in March, the BSP and AAP had alleged “massive rigging” of EVMs. They received support from many other Opposition parties, including the Congress and SP, which demanded that VVPATs should be used in all future elections. In the recent Assembly elections in five states, VVPAT machines were provided in all the polling booths in Goa (40 seats), and 33 of the total 117 constituencies in Punjab. Meanwhile, the Cabinet on Wednesday cleared the allocation of Rs 3,174 crore for the purchase of VVPAT machines.
Sources in the EC said the poll panel would require an additional 16,15,066 VVPATs by 2019, when the Lok Sabha elections will be held simultaneously with the state elections in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Sikkim, Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and Haryana. Each VVPAT machine is estimated to cost Rs 19,650. Since 2013, when the Supreme Court ordered the EC to implement the VVPAT system in a phased manner so that they would be in place for the 2019 general elections, the poll panel has repeatedly written to the the Centre for funds.
As first reported by The Indian Express, in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in October last year, Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi had said: “I’m writing to draw your kind attention to the crisis that may occur during the next General Elections to Lok Sabha in 2019, if required numbers of replacement Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and new Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) are not produced in time by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL), the two defence PSUs.”
While doubts have been raised over whether BEL and ECIL have adequate capacity to produce all the VVPAT machines before the 2019 elections, an EC functionary said: “On our request, both these PSUs have increased their manufacturing capacity. Our target is to get all the required VVPAT machines by September-October 2018, so that there is enough time to remove any minor glitches.”