There may not have been a single case of rigging this election, but that doesn't stop politicians from pointing a finger at the poll process at the slightest chance of doing so. And they got their chance when an incident of water seepage into an EVM storeroom occurred in Lucknow last week. Some even began suspecting if the EVMs were at all foolproof.
Samajwadi Party (SP) candidates and supporters in Lucknow suspected that the district authorities 'created' the incident to tamper with the machines. They felt the BSP or the Congress was behind it.
Then came Samajwadi Party state president Akhilesh Yadav's comment in an interview: "The Congress would end up fourth if EVMs were not tampered with."
Chief electoral officer (CEO), UP, Umesh Sinha was quick to retort: "Anyone can say what he wants, but as far as the worthiness of the EVMs was concerned, there cannot be any manipulation. Period."
But he was surely not taking any chances, immediately upping alertness and security of EVMs in all the districts to ensure that such incidents do not recur.
Also, the EC directed the district election officers to depute a magistrate and a police officer at the strong rooms in which the EVMs are kept.
Both the officers will keep watch on the strong rooms round the clock and submit their report to the district election officers daily.
Sinha told HT, "All the district magistrates and superintendents of police have been directed to take a round of the places where the EVMs are stored and send their report to the Election Commission."
"The district election officers have been directed to ensure that the buildings and the rooms storing the EVMs are safe ones...they should have fire and protection measures," he added.
The EC had earlier directed the district election officers to keep the EVMs in strong rooms under a double lock system.
Under this, one key of the strong room will be with the district election officer. The second one will be with returning officer of the assembly segment.
In a letter to the chief electoral officer, the EC had said the strong rooms would also have a two-tier security system with the central paramilitary force (CPMF) jawans deployed in the internal areas and the state police personnel in the outer ring. The candidates' representatives would stay in an area from where they could have a direct view of the strong room gate.
If the representatives cannot have a direct view of the gate, the district election officer will have to install a closed circuit television (CCTV) on the main gate.
No one will be allowed to enter into the internal security area of the strong room. A strict protocol will be implemented for the district administration officers visiting the area. The CPMF men will maintain a logbook registering names of the officer or officers who come in. Their visits will be videographed.
Fortified in fruit mart
In Varanasi, a warehouse at eastern UP's largest vegetable and fruit market Pahadia Mandi has been made the temporary strong room for the EVMs. The region witnessed polling on February 15 in the third phase. Fourteen CCTV cameras have been installed there, including the one at the strong room. Working eight-hour shifts, district election officials are monitoring these cameras from a control room at the mandi deputy director's office.
Expressing confidence about the safety of the EVMs, district magistrate Ravindra said, "adequate security arrangements have been made at the Pahadia Mandi. The CRPF personnel are on round-the-clock duty and all activities are being watched through the CCTV cameras on the compound."
No water threat but many rats
In Chandauli district, the EVMs have been kept at the mandi samiti's office. Here there is no possibility of water entering the strong room but rats are posing a problem for the security personnel. In Mirzapur district, the EVMs have been kept at the Polytechnic.
In Azamgarh, the EVMs have been kept at the FCI's godown and Chandeshwar Medical College, and in Ballia at the mandi parishad office.
Is the hawk eye open at all times?
In Kanpur, the local authorities have inspected the government polytechnic and described as adequate the security arrangements for the EVMs used in the fifth phase of polling on February 23. Having checked the sewage system too, they felt there was no possibility of a seepage a la Lucknow.
Sources allege some policemen in the outer ring go off to sleep at night instead of keeping a hawk eye on the strong room. As a result, the entire security is in the hands of three-to-six CPMF personnel.
There are similar unsubstantiated allegations that some of these central para-military force personnel also choose to rest at night. But superintendent of police (crime-cum nodal officer, election) Ashfaq Ahmad denies this. He says the security arrangements are elaborate.
A few candidates have reportedly made complaints with the police and administrative officials in this regard but no cognizance is said to have been taken. But there is no official confirmation of this.
Shoot-at-sight orders issued
In Noida Phase II, the administration has set up a strong room at Phool Mandi where EVMs have been kept. The entire area has been handed over to the central industrial security force (CISF).
A platoon of CISF and 100 policemen have been deployed for the safety of the machines. Shoot-at-sight orders have been issued in cases any one is spotted trying to sneak in.
The strong room has been divided into four parts. There are three entry points and at one place EVMs have been kept. At each entry gate, one inspector, 12 sub-inspectors and as many constables will be deployed. The entire counting centre has been put under electronic surveillance.
(With inputs from Pawan Dixit in Varanasi, Wali Siddiqui in Kanpur and Darpan Singh in Noida)