Response

Print edition : June 07, 2019

EVMs

Ref.: Letter no. D.O.No. 51/8/16/9/2018-EVM(D&P) dated May 9, 2019

I invite your attention to the story titled “Missing EVMs” by Venkitesh Ramakrishnan (May 24, 2019). There is no truth in the contention that an 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 is noticed that this news story has selectively quoted some information obtained by an individual through RTI applications from multiple public authorities and a PIL filed in the Bombay High Court. This news story carries only partial and one-sided information, which is inaccurate and based on specious misinterpretation of the facts in the matter, thereby creating unwarranted doubts in the minds of the general public.

The allegations of mismatches in the order and supplies thereof, presumption that “the absence of proper systems and infrastructure too could lead to misplacement of EVMs along with misappropriation of funds” are totally conjectural. As regards concerns about the movement of EVMs, for a matter of record, it is 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 the movement of EVMs and VVPATs. The Commission has 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. This activity is done transparently with active participation of the political parties and contesting candidates. As the matter of the quoted PIL is sub judice, we would not wish to give out further details through the media.

As far as functions of State Election Commissions (SECs) are concerned, it is intimated that SECs are independent constitutional bodies responsible for conducting local body elections. The Election Commission of India (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 SEC is outside the purview of the ECI.

It is hoped that your magazine would observe the highest professional and ethical standards in reporting and would not be a party, even unwittingly, to malicious efforts at spreading misinformation.

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan writes:

This sweeping denial does not address any of the concrete points raised in the article “Missing EVMs”.

A public interest litigation (PIL) on the functioning of the ECI, particularly the processes involved in the procurement, storage and deployment of EVMs and VVPATs by the ECI and various SECs has been pending in the Bombay High Court for over a year. The ECI has not even filed a detailed response affidavit to the PIL. The ECI’s clarification dated May 9, 2019, makes no reference to this fact.

The mismatch between the order and supply of EVMs in the records of the ECI and the manufacturers—Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL)—was a specific point in the PIL which was highlighted in the article. The ECI response makes no reference to these numbers. Instead, it says Frontline has “selectively quoted some information obtained by an individual through RTI applications from multiple public authorities and a PIL filed in the Bombay High Court”.

The ECI, in effect, accepts that what Frontline has published is information obtained through RTI queries. But it has desisted from going into yet another qualitative aspect of the information obtained through RTI: the obvious mismatch between the data given by “multiple public authorities”. On a matter as crucial to the democratic process as EVMs, the public expectation is that the “multiple authorities” would come up with exactly the same number. But the ECI response glosses over this important question. If the mismatch had occurred due to clerical errors in any of the institutions, this too should have been mentioned in the response.

The ECI response goes on to add that the allegations of mismatches in the order and supplies thereof and the presumption that “the absence of proper systems and infrastructure could lead to misplacement of EVMs along with misappropriation of funds is totally conjectural”. As highlighted in the PIL and the Frontline report based on it, the mismatch between the number of EVMS that is in the ECI’s possession and the number supplied by the manufacturers is not conjectural. It is based on numbers provided by different authorities in response to RTI queries.

The ECI response asserts that “the commission has 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”. Despite such claims there have been regular media reports about the discovery of EVMs in places such as hotel rooms. If the claim about a 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 the appearance of EVMs in odd places.

The ECI also makes the contention in its response when it states: “As far as functions of State Election Commissions (SECs) are concerned it is intimated that SECs are independent constitutional bodies responsible for conducting local body elections. The 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 SEC is outside the purview of the ECI.”

If this is true, it will be interesting to know on what parameters the ECI and SECs do interact or cooperate in the conduct of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha elections.

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