The Election Commission of India (ECI) on Tuesday dismissed claims by Opposition parties that Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) are being moved around unprotected ahead of the counting of votes for the ongoing Lok Sabha election 2019 on 23 May. It also rejected allegations of discrepancies at the strong rooms where the EVMs have been kept prior to the announcement of the results on Thursday.
The Returning Officer (RO) of the Ghazipur constituency in Uttar Pradesh said rumours have spread in the media that candidates were being prevented from guarding the EVM strong rooms. Meanwhile, he issued instructions to the Sub-Divisional Magistrate to allow every candidate to keep a watch at three vantage points for eight hours each, appointing an agent each for the purpose. However, he added that the administration has declined permission for several persons to watch over the strong room at a time.
The apprehensions regarding EVMs are baseless. EVMs are in strong room with 24×7 CISF security. And candidates have been allowed to post their agents to monitor the strong room.
— Ghazipur_admin (@AdminGhazipur) May 21, 2019
The poll panel also dismissed allegations made by Opposition leaders that trucks carrying EVMs were caught in another Lok Sabha seat in Uttar Pradesh's Chandauli. After protests erupted in Domariyaganj, EC claimed that the voting machines were kept under proper security and all protocols were being followed, and the demonstrators were persuaded by police officers to abandon the agitation. Similar complaints were received from Jhansi but the poll panel refuted them all.
It, in fact, assured that all the machines were sealed properly in front of the political parties’ candidates in videography and in the presence of CCTV cameras.
On Monday evening, a group of Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Congress workers had protested at Navin Krishi Mandi Sthal in Chandauli alleging that EVMs were being changed at the instance of BJP, the Hindustan Times reported. But District Election Officer Naveen Singh Chahal said that the EVMs being transported were unused. “Thirty-five additional unused EVMs were kept at the Sakaldiha tehsil. These couldn’t be transported on Sunday due to logistical issues and were brought from Sakaldiha on Monday to be stored in a different place," he clarified.
Meanwhile, Additional Chief Electoral Officer BDR Tiwari said the district administration held a meeting with leaders of all political parties to resolve the matter.
Similar protests were lodged by Opposition parties in Ghazipur and Domariyaganj. In Domariyaganj, SP-BSP workers had alleged that they had caught a mini-truck full of EVMs being driven out of the compound of a storage room, according to an NDTV report. The workers claimed this was evidence of the BJP trying to tamper with EVMs, however, the administration said these were extra EVMs they received before polling began.
Allegations also cropped in Mirzapur, Madhya Pradesh's Jhansi, Mau, and parts of Haryana, Punjab and Bihar's Mahrajganj and Saran as well.
Meanwhile, a political furore has erupted over the EVM 'tampering' issue. RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav tweeted:
Visuals and claims of sudden movement of EVMs observed across the north India! Why is it so? Who is transporting these EVMs & Why? What is purpose and objective of this exercise? In order to avoid any confusion & misconception, Election Commission must issue a statement ASAP.
— Tejashwi Yadav (@yadavtejashwi) May 20, 2019
However, RJD's allegations were refuted by the administration claiming that the machines were for training, the NDTV report stated.
Mumbai Congress chief Milind Deora also raised a complaint with the ECI on Tuesday requesting the poll commission to ensure safety and security of EVM machines.
According to an order by the Election Commission in December last year, all EVMs that were used for voting and reserve EVMs "shall be under cover of armed police at all times" after polling process is over. The order says "reserve EVMs should also be returned at the same time when the polled EVMs are returned at the receipt centre".
Former president Pranab Mukherjee also took notice of the matter and issued a statement saying that it was the responsibility of the Election Commission to put to rest the allegations surrounding the mishandling of EVMs.
— Pranab Mukherjee (@CitiznMukherjee) May 21, 2019
The ECI, however, stated that it would like to "emphatically and unambiguously clarify that all such reports and allegations are absolutely false and factually incorrect" and the viral visuals do not pertain to any EVMs used during the polls, it said in an official press release.
Here's the full text of the ECI's statement:
Certain complaints of alleged movement of EVMs, purportedly to replace the polled EVMs in the strongrooms, have been doing the rounds in sections of media. Election Commission of India would like to emphatically and unambiguously clarify that all such reports and allegations are absolutely false, and factually incorrect. The visuals seen viral on media do not pertain to any EVMs used during the polls.
After the close of polls, all polled EVMs and VVPATs are brought under security cover to the designated strongrooms, which is sealed with double locks, in the presence of the candidates and in the presence of Observers of the Election Commission. The entire process of storage and sealing of the strongroom is covered under videography. Continuous CCTV coverage is done till completion of counting. Each strongroom is guarded with round-the-clock security by Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF). Further, the candidates or their designated agents remain present at the strongroom for 24X7 vigil at all times.
On the counting day, the strongrooms are opened in the presence of the candidates/agents and Observer under videography. Before the counting of EVMs commences, the counting agents are shown the address tags, seals and serial number of the EVMs to satisfy themselves to the genuineness and authenticity of the machinesused in the actual polls.
The provisions and protocols have been explained to the political parties on multiple occasions including in several of the 93 meetings held with them at the Commission since announcement of elections. All Chief Electoral Officers and District Election Officers have again been advised to brief the candidates on the elaborate counting arrangements.
As can be appreciated, the detailed administrative protocols, security framework and procedural guidelines mandated by the Commission completely foreclose and pre-empt the possibility of any mischief or manipulation in the polled EVMs and VVPATs stored in the designated strongrooms under the 24X7 watch of the CAPF as well as the candidates.
The aspersions in clips being used in media merely pertain to the storage or movement of Reserve unused EVMs. However any case of lapse even in handling of Reserve EVMs is thoroughly investigated and disciplinary action taken against the officers responsible. An EVM Control Room 011- 23052123 will also be functioning at Nirvachan Sadan for handling any EVM related complaints till the completion of counting. This will become operative from 11am on 22.5.2019.
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Updated Date: May 21, 2019 16:59:53 IST