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Don’t tamper with the credibility of Electronic Voting Machines

The Election Commission of India is duty bound and has always gone the extra mile to clear all misgivings about the EVM. Political parties should not level casual accusations against this remarkable achievement

analysis Updated: Apr 30, 2017 09:01 IST
EVM,Election Commission of India,ballot paper
Thanks to the EVMs results were known by noon on counting day. This was the miracle of this new technology. When ballot papers were used, often the results were contested. This meant that counting continued for days(PTI)

The Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) has a long and often chequered history in India. It was in 1977 that the government asked the Electronics Corporation of India (ECIL) to develop this machine. Later, Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) was also involved in this effort. About 750 million rupees worth of machines were manufactured to this design but no serious effort was made to introduce Indian voters to this. An effort was made in Kerala in 1982 in a few polling booths, but this was blocked by legal challenges. Another small effort was made in Sikkim, but that too faded away.

The CAG criticised the Election Commission for this waste of money, but I thought such criticism was not acceptable. We examined the problem and decided to go ahead with EVMs in select constituencies in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi. A Union minister advised against the use of EVMs in villages as illiterate people would not be able to use them. People living in cities have such prejudices about rural folk. Nevertheless, we used EVMs in that historic 1997 election in these three states. It was a great success.

Political parties suddenly began to see the miracle of this little machine in a country with poor literacy in large parts. With the EVMs no ballot boxes were to be stolen, no ink poured into the boxes, no spoilt votes, nor were there attempts to change the boxes. Thanks to the EVMs, the results were known by noon on counting day. This was the miracle of this new technology. When ballot papers were used, often the results were contested.

The use of EVMs was rapidly expanded covering the whole state and subsequently polls in many states were held on a single day.

It is natural for parties that have lost the election to cast doubts and challenge the results. Before introducing the EVMs, I held meetings with all the 52 recognised political parties, accepting their suggestions and ideas. Some wanted EVMs in their constituencies. I was happy to oblige. But, when these worthies lost, they complained.

The complaints were on two counts. First was that the technology could be tampered with. The CMDs and engineers of the ECIL and BEL were invited to clear the doubts of the complainants. The second invariably was a legal challenge. The late J Jayalalithaa challenged the ECI at the Madras High Court. After a long and full hearing the challenge was dismissed. For the past two decades the EVMs have been successfully used across India and while many continue to challenge its use, all have lost their arguments against the EVMs. The courts have gone to great lengths to ensure that the Indian voter is not cheated by the EVMs.

The system has settled down and has become the envy of the world. As CEC, I was shown a Canadian machine, but it was not only too expensive but also too complicated to use. The Indian machine is inexpensive, simple to use and robust. It has never failed us and the world knows it, as they watch our elections closely.

India has more than 800 million voters and more than 1.2 million EVMs are used for our elections. The world admires India for this achievement. When United States President Bill Clinton came to Delhi, at a dinner at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, he pointed at me sitting across the table and said that they envied the EC’s success.

To all critics of the EVM I would say: Don’t knock this perfect little Indian robot. When you win, the machine seems fine. It is attacked when you lose.

In these two decades since it was first used, we have held many elections, and while parties have won and lost, the habit of casting a doubt on the reliability of the EVMs had almost disappeared until the current controversy. In the Uttar Pradesh elections of 2007 and 2012, different parties won handsomely. In Delhi, the ruling party won a massive majority two years ago. No one raised any questions then.

I am surprised at the current broad and vague accusations. I think accusations against this remarkable national improvement in conducting elections should not be casually and lightly made.

The ECI cannot exist without the confidence of its 800 million voters. In August 2009, the EC had carried out a week long examination of all complaints. Today too if any credible doubts are brought to the EC, it will examine them, and furnish answers. This has always being the policy and practice of the EC.

MS Gill is former chief election commissioner

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Apr 06, 2017 19:38 IST