Centre stonewalls Election Commission on VVPAT

Despite 10 reminders and a letter to the PM, the Centre is yet to release funds for VVPAT printers for 2019 general elections. Is it because the EC resisted the nudge to involve private manufacturers?

Photo by Ashok Nath Dey/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Ashok Nath Dey/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

NH Political Bureau

The Supreme Court has once again sought information from the Election Commission and the Centre whether the next general elections in 2019 can be held with electronic voting machines (EVMs) fitted with VVPAT (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail). The court fixed May 8 as the next date of hearing.

While the apex court had ordered the use of VVPAT in April 2013, the Centre is yet to release funds to the Election Commission for purchase of 16 lakh VVPAT printers at a cost of ₹3,100 crore.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court was informed that the Election Commission has sent 10 reminders to the government since 2014. In fact, in an unprecedented move, Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi had written directly to the prime minister in October 2016 seeking his intervention in the issue. Normally, the Commission deals with the Ministry of Law and Justice and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), and Zaidi’s letter was deemed to be an SOS.

In his letter to Modi, Zaidi wrote, “I’m writing to draw your kind attention to the crisis that may occur during the next General Election to Lok Sabha in 2019, if required numbers of replacement electronic voting machines (EVMs) and new Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail are not produced in time by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL), the two defence PSUs.”

He further wrote that the Commission had submitted its first proposal to the Ministry of Law and Justice on June 16, 2014 for the required budget and sanction for EVMs and VVPATs and “has pursued the matter continuously since then”.

“There are already two contempt petitions against me and the Commission being heard by the Supreme Court for not deploying VVPATs in adequate number. The production of VVPT is held up for want of sanction of funds. Hence, I would request your good self to kindly look into the matter and advise concerned ministries for release of necessary funds and sanctions for VVPAT most urgently.”

On Thursday, the counsel for the Bahujan Samaj Party, P Chidambaram, argued that no technology was fool-proof and without the VVPAT there was no way for the voter to ascertain that his vote has been cast in favour of the candidate or party he had voted for.

Media reports had earlier stated that the Union Government wanted the Election Commission to involve private manufacturers but EC had declined while pointing out that it was a sensitive issue.

Although the Election Commission had told the Supreme Court in January this year that orders needed to be placed by February 2017 for the VVPAT printers to be delivered by September 2018, funds have clearly not been released yet.

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