Calling for a quick rollout of the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines in all polling stations across the country, former Chief Election Commissioners S Y Quraishi and H S Brahma have said that the paper trail system is the only way to silence politicians raising doubts over alleged tampering of electronic voting machines or EVMs.
Speaking at The Indian Express Idea Exchange event on Monday (transcript will be published in The Sunday Express), Brahma said: “I personally feel worried when political parties and politicians question the credibility of voting machines. The credibility of EVMs has been established beyond doubt through court judgments. Having said that, I think, once we cover all polling stations with VVPATs, it will put an end to 90 per cent of the allegations leveled against EVMs and we will have the most dependable election process in the world.”
Several parties, including the BSP, Samajwadi Party and Aam Aadmi Party have questioned the infallibility of EVMs following the Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand results. Before its triumph in the 2014 general elections, the BJP, too, had talked of EVM tampering on many occasions. VVPAT machines produce a printout of the vote cast using an EVM which can be shown to the voter to dispel any doubts. This printout is then deposited in a box and can be used to resolve any dispute regarding the election. In 2013, the Supreme Court ordered the EC to implement the VVPAT system in a phased manner and the Commission had committed to have it in place by the time of the 2019 general elections.
The EC has been writing to the Law Ministry (its parent ministry) for funds to purchase approximately 16 lakh VVPATs, for which it needs Rs 3,100 crore. The Commission, as The Indian Express reported last week, sent over 10 reminders to the government on the matter since June 2014 but hasn’t received any funds till date. The delay prompted Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi to send an SOS of sorts to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 25, 2016.
Criticising the delay in release of funds meant for VVPAT purchase, Quraishi said, “The (incumbent) CEC has said that it will take 30 months to manufacture the machines. The cost of Rs 3500 crore is peanuts when it comes to conducting elections in a transparent manner. This is something the government should look at immediately. What are they doing?”
Asked about EVMs being junked by other countries, Quraishi said, “We are talking of four European countries (that banned EVMs) which were all using machines made in one place, that is, the Netherlands. So when the machine failed in one country, the others will also ban it. There was a case of cheating against Volkswagen but does that mean we should we also ban Mercedes? Secondly, everyone is talking about the German Supreme Court which outlawed the EVMs but no one has read their judgment. I did. It was done for a legal reason. Their Constitution demands that elections should be conducted in a transparent manner. When the voter presses a button he cannot physically see his vote going to the candidate of choice, which is why it (EVMs) was banned. The court didn’t say that the technology is bad.
“Moreover, we don’t follow the German Supreme Court. We follow our Supreme Court, which, almost 25 years ago during Kerala state elections, had struck down the use of EVMs for legal reasons and not technical. The court had pointed out that the law does not have provision for use of EVMs. We went to the Parliament and got it incorporated in the Act and came back with a bang. We have been using these machines so successfully for last 20 years.”
Both Brahma and Quraishi also endorsed the introduction of the totaliser machines, a proposal that has been repeatedly rejected by the NDA government. These machines increase the secrecy of voting by counting votes polled at 14 polling booths together, as against the current practice of announcing booth-wise results.