Opposition parties will, in all likelihood, again tell the Election Commission of India about their "loss of faith" in EVMs and to ensure trustworthy mechanism for polling, when an all-party meeting on the issue is held in New Delhi on Friday. The meeting will also discuss electoral reforms and is scheduled to begin at 10 am on Friday.
The poll panel is likely to seek suggestions for its proposed "EVM challenge", which will provide a chance to those doubting Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) to prove that these can be tampered with. The meeting comes in the wake of doubts repeatedly raised by many political parties on functioning of the EVMs once results of Assembly polls in five states — Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, Punjab and Manipur were declared on 11 March. The Bharatiya Janata Party swept to power with a historic mandate in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
Leaders of 13 parties met Election Commission officials in April to convey their "complete loss of faith" in the EVMs and to demand use of VVPAT (voter-verified paper audit trail) and paper ballots in future polls. These opposition parties had also conveyed their concerns on the EVMs to President Pranab Mukherjee.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati had raised apprehensions about tampering of EVMs the day Uttar Pradesh assembly election results were out. The Aam Admi Party, which lost the assembly elections in Punjab, and later the municipal corporation elections in Delhi, also raised its voice on the issue. Ever since, the issue has not been
What Supreme Court said on EVM tampering allegation
In April 2017, the debate over the possibility of tampering of EVMs echoed in the Supreme Court as well which decided to examine the allegations that these machines were not "foolproof" without a paper trail. The apex court's decision came on a petition filed by Mayawati and her BSP, which after the drubbing in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, has claimed large scale tampering of EVMs.
A bench of Justice J Chelameswar and Justice Abdul Nazeer had in April issued notices to the Centre and the EC asking them to respond to the plea challenging the use of EVMs without paper trail. "Technically, we agree that any technology can be tampered with, but you have to have sufficient grounds for raising doubts,” the court told senior counsel P Chidambaram, who was appearing for BSP, in an oral observation. "The EVM itself was introduced to stop practices and larger evils like booth capturing and others. This is a work in progress,” the court, which fixed the matter for further hearing on 8 May, said.
The matter came up for hearing before the apex court after the ECI threw an "open challenge" to political parties and experts to come and try to hack the EVMs and show that they can be tampered with. While senior Congress leader P Chidambaram claimed that almost every political party has protested against the use of EVMs, senior advocate Kapil Sibal said Congress will also intervene in the matter saying "every technology can be hacked" and this was a cause of serious concern.
Sibal's submission had assumed significance in the apex court as Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh categorically had said that he had no problem with the EVMs. His colleague and senior Congress leader M Veerappa Moily had in personal remarks also said that going back to the ballot paper would be a regressive step.
While reminding Sibal that the EVMs were introduced when Congress was in power, the top court had directed the Centre and ECI to respond to BSP's petition within three weeks after Chidambaram raised doubts over the accuracy of voting through EVMs only.
"The petition is challenging the use of EVMs in elections without a voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT)," the senior counsel said. He argued that ECI had said they have been asking the government to provide funds for procurement of VVPATs but enough money was not given to it. "The ECI acknowledges and recognises that EVMs are not foolproof. They want VVPAT and they have recommended to the government and asked for money to procure VVPAT. ECI had sent 10 reminders to the government for release of funds. The letters were sent to the Prime Minister by the Chief Election Commissioner," Chidambaram claimed.
He told the bench that the use of EVMs without VVPAT created serious doubts about the accuracy of voting and a paper trail was needed so that the voter gets a feedback of the vote cast by him. He said to ensure accuracy in the voting process, paper trail is needed as there were chances of tampering with EVMs as there were reports that both the hardware and software of these machines are "vulnerable".
"There is no way that a voter can verify as to whether the vote cast by him has gone to the right candidate. Without a paper trail, there is no way to verify it. In EVMs, a voter is only pressing the button and he does not know whether the machine is recording his voting correctly or not. There is doubt over it," Chidambaram said.
To this, the bench asked, "you are having doubts, but on what basis?" Responding to the court's query, Chidambaram said EVM is a machine and "one can make a machine while the other one can tamper with it. There are issues of hacking as well".
Referring to an earlier judgment of the apex court, he said the court had observed that the paper trail with EVMs was an indispensable requirement of fair elections. The lawyers also told the bench that around three lakh VVPAT attachments were required for the entire country and it would could cost around Rs 3,000 crore.
During the hearing, Chidambaram referred to some of the reports given by experts and said they "demonstrated that both the hardware and software of EVMs are vulnerable and unless there is no paper trail, the accuracy cannot be verified". At the very end of the hearing, Sibal told the court that Congress party would also intervene in the matter.
"Nowhere in the world, except in one country, these EVMs are being used," Sibal said, adding, "Every technology can be hacked and that is our concern." To this, the bench said, "Do not tell us that this system is used in only one country. This system was introduced when your party was in power".
What other political parties are saying
Aam Aadmi Party leader Saurabh Bharadwaj threw a fresh challenge before the poll panel on 11 March by saying his party can prove how the EVMs used in assembly polls were pre-programmed to favour a particular party. The AAP recently sought to demonstrate how an EVM can be tampered with in the Delhi assembly, though the Election Commission debunked the claim by saying the machine used was a mere "prototype".
The AAP also contended that it could show how EVM motherboards can be changed in 90 seconds. AAP activists even protested outside the Election Commission headquarters here on Thursday against alleged EVM tampering. The Congress, Trinamool Congress and several other parties have raised their concerns over EVMs.
The AAP and Congress had demanded polling through ballot papers for last month's Delhi MCD polls but the the Delhi State Election Commission said EVMs were "completely safe". The Election Commission too has repeatedly asserted that the EVMs cannot be tampered with.
On 4 May, the poll panel released a "Status Paper on Electronic Voting Machines" describing the security measures adopted to make them tamperproof. Congress leader and MP Vivek Tankha, member of the Congress delegation at the all-party meeting, told IANS that the Election Commission has to take a call on making the election process trustworthy.
He said EVMs do not enjoy their trust any more.
"The Election Commission has to take a call. At the end of the day it (elections) is all about trust," Tankha told IANS.
Amid concerns raised by the opposition, the Union Cabinet last month cleared the Election Commission's proposal to buy VVPAT machines for the EVMs to ensure transparency in the voting process.
The proposal involves getting 16,15,000 VVPAT units for EVMs at a cost of around Rs 3,173.47 crore for use in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Updated Date: May 12, 2017 10:46 AM