A massive exercise, led by the Election Commission of India, to procure more than 17 lakh VVPATs (Voter verifiable paper audit trails) for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections is currently underway. A major reason that the apex poll body is keen on procuring VVPATs is to lend legitimacy to the Electronic Voter Machines (EVMs), which have time and again been doubted by the major political parties in India as being prone to hacking and manipulation. Despite reservations around the EVMs, the EC has been steamrolling over the domestic as well as international criticism as it stays hellbent on its stand that ECI’s EVMs are infallible.
Renowned scientist Gauhar Raza believes that “it is inconsequential whether the Election Commission deploys VVPAT units in 100% of the booths or just 1% of the polling booths.”
The scientist-activist spells out two reasons as to why the VVPATs won’t really legitimise the use of EVMs.
“First, it is a secondary machine introduced to validate if the EVM is working properly or not. Secondly, only one VVPAT machine per constituency is to be used for validation as per the Election Commission.”
“Anyone who knows a little about statistics would have told the ECI that such validation is statistically and politically laughable,” states Raza.
Raza then goes on demolish EC’s arguments on the infallibility of the EVMs, arguing that EC’s defense is without any “scientific basis.”
“… the Election Commission of India believes the Indian machines are tamper-proof because experts appointed by the Commission have told them so! The claim cannot be verified by anyone else.”
The noted scientist bases his arguments on a book published by one Hari Prasad, who had managed to steal an EVM in 2010 and smuggle it to the US.
“The machine was then made available to a research team at the Michigan University in USA. The team clearly did reverse engineering on this hardwired machine and published a research paper, highlighting two methods of hacking it. Videos were made and circulated,” says Raza.
Further, he states, the claim that the machine code that’s written in India and given to semiconductor chip companies abroad can’t be read is bunkum too
“I believe that only an extraordinarily stupid person will say that the EVM cannot be tampered. That is because, one country after another has already rejected the EVM because the machines have failed the tests,” he states.
Raza highlights that the US-based company which manufactures microchips for Indian EVMs itself admits in its user manual that ‘there are dishonest and possibly illegal methods used to breach the code protection feature.”
“But despite the recent admission by the chip manufacturers before a US Court that the clone of their chips are available in the market, the Election Commission of India still maintains that the machines are foolproof,” argues Raza.
Further, he states, the claim that the machine code that’s written in India and given to semiconductor chip companies abroad can’t be read is bunkum too.
“A microprocessor works on a programme that is etched on its memory. The Press and Information Bureau, the Government of India and the Election Commission, in its FAQ section informs us the following:
‘EVMs are produced indigenously by two PSUs viz. Bharat Electronics Ltd., Bengaluru and Electronics Corporation of India Ltd., Hyderabad. The Software Programme Code is written in-house, by these two companies, not outsourced, and subjected to security procedures at factory level to maintain the highest levels of integrity.
The programme is converted into machine code and only then given to the chip manufacturer abroad because we don’t have the capability of producing semi-conductor microchips within the country.’ It also claims that once written, the programme cannot be read by anyone, and a cloned chip cannot be produced.”
Finally, Raza states that any machine, including the EVM, could be remote-controlled, and to think otherwise would be foolish.
“But while on the one hand we claim to be masters of programming and software development, on the otherhand our Election Commission says that nobody can tamper EVMs!” he states.
He concludes his article by noting that even the security systems of NSA and NASA had been breached.
“Is the Election Commission of India fooling itself or the people by claiming that EVMs are foolproof?”