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Lok Sabha elections 2019: EVMs in three-tier security, yet parties keep close watch

Political parties have deployed workers at places where EVMs have been kept in Lucknow, where the shelter home and dormitory area inside the Rama Bai rally ground have turned into fortress.

lok sabha elections Updated: May 15, 2019 19:20 IST
M Tariq Khan
M Tariq Khan
Hindustan Times, Lucknow
EVM,three-tier security,parties keep close watch
The EVMs are stored in the strong room in the presence of the district election officer, other election officials, election observers.(Hindistan Times/Representative Image )

As the Lok Sabha election in Uttar Pradesh enters its last phase, the issue of security of electronic voting machines (EVMs) has taken the centre stage.

Ever since the electoral process began in the state on April 11, the opposition parties have been complaining about malfunctioning of EVMs and alleging misuse of the official machinery by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In almost every phase of Lok Sabha election, the opposition parties approached the Election Commission with complaints related to EVMs.

Now, when six out of seven phases are over and the EVMs have been kept in strong rooms under three-tier security, the opposition parties are still apprehensive. Not leaving anything to chance, the parties are deploying their workers at all the venues, where the EVMs have been kept, to keep an eye on activities.

In Lucknow, the shelter home and dormitory area inside the Rama Bai rally ground have turned into fortress.

Meant to accommodate rallyists and those without a roof over their head during winters, these sprawling halls are out of bounds even for the VIPs since May 6. They have been converted into strongrooms for safe custody of EVMs and VVPATs used in the Lucknow Lok Sabha elections.

Also read: Double standards’: Amit Shah slams poll panel for ‘inaction’ in Bengal

The area is flood-lit and a round-theclock three-tier security blanket ensures that nobody, except authorised personnel, is allowed inside the premises.

“We are strictly going by the rule book and instructions issued by the Election Commission of India on the procedure to be adopted in keeping the EVMs safe till the day of counting,” said a magistrate, posted at the site, on condition of anonymity. “In December 2018, the ECI had sent out a circular to district election officers containing specific instructions on how the EVMs were to be transported and stored after polling till the day of counting,” he said.

At least 10 halls and rooms with an area of more than 50,000 square feet have now been converted into strong room for these EVMs, which are being guarded roundthe-clock with a three-layer security set up. “In the inner cordon, the security is provided by the CISF, the middle cordon is looked after by the state reserve police force and the outer cordon is secured by the local police,” another official said.

Even the power supply to the strong room is switched off to avoid the possibility of short-circuit or fire. Nonetheless, a fire tender is kept ready and parked near the venue round-the-clock in case of any eventuality. “Those entering the premises are videographed. There is no question of allowing anyone in the vicinity of the strong room,” said a police officer.

The EVMs are stored in the strong room in the presence of the district election officer, other election officials, election observers, senior police officials and representatives of political parties.

“The machines were switched off and sealed after the polling and brought to the strong room. It took nearly six hours for them to be stored serially in the room,” said an official. However, the parties are leaving nothing to chance.

Samajwadi Party spokesman and former minister Rajendra Chaudhary said, “Even today, an EVM-related incident has surfaced in Domariyaganj. We cannot rule out foulplay in the run up counting. We have deployed our workers at some places and will do so at other venues of counting as well.”

Vice-president of the state BJP unit JPS Rathore said, “It depends on the political parties if they want to put up their representative at the place where the EVMs are kept. “Though the security is foolproof, our party workers keep visiting the site off and on,” he added.

As of now, no representative of any political party is staying at Rama Bai ground. After voting for the sixth phase ended in Prayagraj on May 12, polling parties from different parts of the district headed to Mundera Mandi to deposit EVMs.

Senior superintendent of police, Prayagraj, Atul Sharma said a platoon of CISF had been deployed at Mundera Mandi.

Different political parties have deployed their teams of activists to monitor the safety of EVMs.

UPCC spokesman Kishore Varshney said a team of four members had been deployed at the gate of Mundera Mandi and they would stay at a makeshift arrangement till May 23. After polling, EVMs are sealed in the presence of the representatives of all the political parties. After that it depends on the political parties if they want to put up their representative at the place where the EVMs are kept JPS RATHORE, vice-president, UP, BJP

Dan Bahadur, spokesman for the Samajwadi Party’s Prayagraj unit, said a team of 10 party activists would stay on the mandi premises. BJP’s Prayagraj unit spokesman Pawan Srivastava also said a team of party workers would stay at the spot till the day of counting.

In Agra, unlike previous elections, the political parties have not put up their separate tents. A common tent has been put up where only those people are being allowed who are authorised by the parties.

Agra unit president of the BJP Vijay Shivhare said, “We have full faith in the security arrangements made by the administration for the safety of EVMs. Still, an election agent and sometimes a candidate visits the Mandi Samiti premises to have a look every now and then.”

SP-BSP-RLD alliance candidate Manoj Soni also expressed confidence in security arrangements but said the party workers would keep visiting the place every now and then. “We have designated our trusted workers to monitor the premises. But there is no need for a continuous stay there,” said Soni.

However, in Meerut, leaders and workers of the SP-BSP alliance are guarding the EVMs that have been kept at the spinning mill. BSP’s Haji Yakoob Qureshi was the alliance candidate in Meerut against

BJP’s sitting MP Rajendra Agarwal and Congress’s Harendra Agarwal.

A BSP leader, not willing to be named, said the party had deputed teams of five workers and leaders in shifts of eight hours to keep a watch on strong rooms.

Izhar Ahmad, a BSP worker, said though the security personnel were guarding the EVMs but a team of five workers of the party stayed at the camp set up outside the venue.

“Our shift changes every eight hours. The administration has given us access to the CCTV camera monitor which we use to keep a vigil on the main entrance of strong room and the movement around the mill. We are satisfied with the arrangements but can’t take any chances,” he said.

A controversy had erupted over the security of EVMs on May 1 when a truck arrived at the spinning mill and unloaded 30 empty steel boxes.

BSP candidate Haji Yakoob lodged a complaint with the district magistrate and demanded an inquiry into the matter.

The controversy ended only when the district administration clarified that the boxes were sent to keep stationary and other material on the day of counting.

In Kanpur, the EVMs have been kept under tight security but some of the parties are not assured of foolproof security.

Samajwadi Party district president Moin Khan said no representative of any political party was included in the security panel. “Since the police and armed constabulary are under the control of the government, it can be influenced by the administration. To ensure complete safety and security, the district administration should have allowed the representatives of various parties to stay there with the police,” he said.

First Published: May 15, 2019 13:09 IST