The government and the election commission seem headed for a confrontation over funds for the purchase of devices that leave a paper trail of votes cast on an electronic machine.
Sources in the government said on Monday the delay in release of money was a logistic holdup, even as the poll panel complained its request for funds to buy voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) machines had remained unheeded.
The confrontation comes at a time when opposition parties are demanding the poll panel go back to paper ballot and discontinue the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs), alleging the devices can be tampered with.
Both the government and election commission have denied the charge and said EVMs were completely safe.
The law ministry released more than Rs 700 crore in the last two years for the purchase of EVMs and VVPATs, an official said on condition of anonymity.
Funds for VVPATs, which are attached to EVMs, were not released in one go because the implementation was meant to take place in a phased manner, the official said.
EC sources countered the claim, saying the poll panel received only Rs 1,940 crore for the purchase of EVMs and not Rs 3,174 crore it had sought for VVPATs.
“The Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling spoke of implementing the VVPATs in a phased manner, accordingly money was disbursed,” the source said.
But, the EC later decided to use only paper-trail machines for the 2019 general election, so the government had to rework the funding plan.
The government was responding to the EC’s allegations that the law ministry had ignored its repeated reminders for release of funds for VVPAT machines as directed by the court.
The machine allows a voter to see the name and symbol of the candidate voted for before the paper slip drops into a box attached to the device.
The law ministry released Rs 363.60 crore in 2015-16 and Rs 425.35 crore a year later. The cabinet had also approved release of Rs 1,009 crore for the purchase of new EVMs to replace the ageing machines, sources said.
Introduced in 1998 in some part of the country, EVMs fast-tracked India’s poll process. Counting that used to take days is now a matter of hours.
The 2004 poll was the first general election in which EVMs, manufactured by government-owned Bharat Heavy Electricals and Electronic Corporation of India, were used. These machines have a life span of around 15 years.
The Supreme Court has asked the poll panel to use only VVPATs for the next Lok Sabha election. During a recent hearing, it asked the government and the poll panel to spell out the timeframe for switch to the paper-trail system.
The poll panel told the court around 1.6 million machines would be needed for the 2019 election and these could be commissioned in 30 months from the date of release of funds, keeping in mind the capacity of the two firms.
While law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad declined comment on the issue of funds, he welcomed the EC’s decision to invite people to try and hack the EVMs.
Slamming the Opposition, he said when they won elections, no questions were asked but when the verdict favoured the BJP, doubts were being cast over the efficacy of EVMs.
“This logic is not just flawed but emanates from gross failure to seriously introspect the cause of defeat and is an insult to popular verdict,” the minister said.