Palghar and Bhandara-Gondia by elections 2018: Maharashtra Lok Sabha bypolls marred by malfunctioning of EVMs, VVPATs

Mumbai: Polling for the Palghar and Bhandara-Gondia Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra on Monday were marred by instances of malfunctioning of Electronic Voting Machines and Voter-Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPATs), drawing flak from the opposition parties.

The technical glitches prompted the Shiv Sena and the NCP to express reservations over the use of these machines, with former Union minister Praful Patel claiming almost 25 per cent of EVMs malfunctioned in the bypoll to Bhandara-Gondia Lok Sabha seat.

Shiv Sena's Sanjay Raut said those in power were contesting elections with the "key and remote of EVMs in their hands".

Palghar district collector Prashant Narnaware told PTI that around 46 percent voters exercised their franchise in the constituency between 7 am to 6 pm. A district official from Gondia said the polling percentage in Bhandara-Gondia was around 42. "In view of the malfunctioning of EVMs, we received representations from various parties to extend polling hours," the IAS officer said.

"In the 2097 polling booths in the constituency, we had to change only three EVMs," he said. However, 154 VVPATs had to be replaced, he added.

"We had anticipated these technical glitches and had deployed 96 engineers and sought 15 per cent extra machines," he said.

 Palghar and Bhandara-Gondia by elections 2018: Maharashtra Lok Sabha bypolls marred by malfunctioning of EVMs, VVPATs

Shiv Sena, along with NCP and Congress, expressed reservations over the use of EVMs. Reuters

Senior NCP leader Praful Patel sought to know as to why EVMs from Surat in Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, were used in the bypoll when similar machines were available in Maharashtra.

"EVMs were available in Maharashtra. What was the reason for bringing EVMs from Surat in Gujarat? We have expressed our doubts to the Election Commission," Patel told reporters in Gondia.

In New Delhi, sources in the Election Commission said inapt handling of VVPAT machines by the ground staff, especially when the temperature is high, led to their heating, resulting in their malfunctioning, an explanation Patel termed as "shocking".

"To say that EVMs malfunctioned due to excessive heat is shocking," he said, demanding re-polling in the booths where the voting machines failed.

In developed countries like the US, Germany, France and Japan, the use of EVMs was stopped and they reverted to ballot papers, he said. Patel, who lost from the Bhandara-Gondia constituency in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, said his party had raised the issue of faulty EVMs with the Election Commission.

He also pointed out that VVPAT) machines, which eject slips to confirm the voter's choice, were not functioning.

"As and when re-polling takes place, will we be able to count every slip?" he asked. Meanwhile, Raut told reporters in Mumbai that manipulating EVMs was now a trend. "Earlier, there used to be booth-capturing and bogus voting. Now, some people hold the key and remote control of EVMs in their hands and contest elections," he said.

"This is a warning bell for the country. This EVM scam is taking place because you (the BJP) are in power. That is why outdated EVM machines are brought in," the Sena leader said. Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) president Ashok Chavan said alleged 250 EVMs and VVPATs had malfunctioned, which was a suspicious development. He demanded a probe.

The BJP candidate for the Palghar Lok Sabha seat, Rajendra Gavit, demanded the polling time be extended in view of the faulty EVMs in some booths. Gavit's poll representative submitted a memorandum to election officials in Palghar, seeking extension of the polling time due to malfunctioning of EVMs and VVPAT machines in some booths.

However, the polling time was not extended. The counting of votes will take place on 31 May. Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh leader and former MP Prakash Ambedkar said around 450 EVMs malfunctioned.

"There were certain cases of failure due to technical problem of EVMs and VVPATs during polling in Palghar and Bhandara-Gondia Lok Sabha constituencies which were replaced," an election official said. Around 15,000 voters from Mali Ali, Mavanda, Navale and Nandanvan villages in Palghar's Vasai tehsil boycotted polling, citing lack of developmental in their areas.

In Bhandara-Gondia, the BJP and the NCP were the main rivals in the bypoll, held after the resignation of BJP MP Nana Patole. Patole, a leader of the powerful OBC Kunbi community, had switched sides from the Congress to the BJP and was elected as an MP from the constituency, located in Vidarbha region, in 2014 by defeating Praful Patel.

The NCP, which allied with the Congress for the bypoll, fielded ex-BJP MLA Madhukar Kukde against BJP's Hemant Patle, a former legislator who belongs to the Powar community. In Palghar, the bypoll was necessitated following the death of sitting BJP MP Chintaman Wanaga. The bickering BJP ally Shiv Sena has fielded the late MP's son Srinivas in a bid to garner sympathy vote.

The BJP has put up Rajendra Gavit, who quit the Congress and joined the saffron party. The Bahujan Vikas Aghadi led by Vasai-Virar strongman Hitendra Thakur is also in the fray with the nomination of its ex-MP Baliram Jadhav.

Kiran Raja Gahla of the CPM, which has a base in Talasari and Dahanu, and former MP Damu Shingada (Congress) are also in the fray for the multi-cornered fight. The Palus-Kadegaon assembly bypoll in Sangli was also scheduled today but did not take place as all candidates pulled out, leaving Congress's Vishwajeet Kadam as the winner.

The bypoll was necessitated by the death of sitting Congress MLA and ex-minister Patangrao Kadam, Vishwajeet's father.

Updated Date: May 29, 2018 07:14:46 IST