The Election Commission has again knocked on the government’s door for immediate release of funds to procure voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) machines, following the Opposition parties raising their pitch for abandoning electronic voting machines (EVMs) for paper ballots.
In a terse letter to the law ministry, the election commission has made an oblique reference to the skepticism over the use of EVMs by the Opposition parties. “It is felt that the process of procurement of VVPATs cannot be delayed any longer given prevailing environment,” the commission said in its letter on March 22.
Sources said this is the 11th reminder to the government, though EC officials did not confirm this.
The EC has asked for Rs 3174 crore from the Centre for the purchase of the machines that allow voters to see the name and symbol of the candidate they have voted for.
The results are visible for seven seconds on a paper slip that is then recorded in the machines and can in the case of any dispute be used verify the result being shown on the EVM.
- VVPAT allows a paper slip to be generated bearing the name and symbol of the candidate along with a recording of the vote in the control unit
- Under the VVPAT, a printer is attached to the balloting unit and kept in the voting compartment
- In case of dispute, the slip can be counted to verify the result being shown on the EVM
- VVPATs were approved by the EC in 2013; they were used in the Nagaland by-election the same year
- In Goa assembly elections in this year, VVPATs were used in all 40 constituencies
The issue of EVMs being possibly manipulated by the ruling BJP was first raised by BSP supremo Mayawati after her party’s dismal performance in the UP assembly polls, but has since gained traction with 16 other parties including the TMC and the AAP backing that charge. The Congress too has been demanding reverting to paper ballots, though a few senior leaders have distanced themselves from such claims.
In the latest letter to Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi has reiterated that the commission’s earlier demand for release of funds has not been met. The commission had in January 2017, written that if the funds were not released by February 2017, the manufacturers of the VVPATs would not be able to deliver the machines in time for the 2019 general elections.
The Supreme Court has directed the EC to use VVPAT machines for the next general elections and had while hearing a contempt petition, sought to know the approximate time within which the entire system could be introduced.
The commission had informed the apex court that the “required number of VVPATS can be manufactured from the date of release of funds in 30 months as per current capacity of the two manufacturers -- Bharat Electronics Ltd and Electronics Corporation of India Ltd”.
The commission needs over 16 lakh paper trail machines to cover all polling stations for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
With accusations of EVMs being manipulated flying thick and fast, the EC has also decided to throw open a challenge in May, inviting people to hack the machines that have been used for elections since 1998.
“Commission stands fully committed to deploy VVPATs along with EVMs in all future elections so that transparency of electoral process is enhanced, integrity of the voting preserved and the voters’ confidence in the process is further strengthened,” the letter said.