The Election Commission of India on Saturday decided to depute a high-level team to supervise the by-elections in Madhya Pradesh, after complaints of faulty EVMs in the state.
“A delegation from INC today (Saturday) met the Commission in connection with bye-election from 9-Ater and 89-Bandhavgarh(ST) assembly constituencies in MP. The delegation demanded the Commission to ensure free and fair election and absolute neutrality of the officers,” an ECI notification said.
The official statement, issued on behalf of EC Director Dhirendra Ojha added, “The Commission has decided to depute a team of high level officers led by Bhanwar Lal, CEO Andhra Pradesh (Chief secretary level officer) to supervise the bye-elections in MP.”
The team will also include RK Srivastava, Senior Principal Secretary and Varinder Kumar, Principal Secretary. These teams of senior officers will supervise the implementation of all administrative and security instructions of the ECI for the conduct of elections.
To ensure the correct functioning of EVMs and VVPATs being deployed in the two ACs, the Commission has also decided to depute two teams of officers of the Commission along with technical experts.
The integrity of the EVMs and the VVPATs to be used in the poll will be demonstrated to the complete satisfaction of all stakeholders by the team. These team will remain in the Assembly Constituency till the counting is over.
The commission is committed to conduct entire electoral process transparently, fairly and to the complete satisfaction of stakeholders including esteemed voters. ECI will always hear and redress genuine and credible suggestions from stakeholders to further strengthen the electoral system, the notification said.
Complaints of faulty EVMs
A major row erupted on Saturday over a video of VVPAT demonstration by a poll official in Madhya Pradesh where the machine attached to an EVM allegedly dispensed slips of only BJP as the opposition knocked at the EC’s doors seeking scrapping of EVM use in upcoming polls.
The Election Commission sought a detailed report from the district poll authorities in Bhind, where a bypoll is due on April 9.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Electoral Officer Saleena Singh, who was seen in the video, however denied reports that voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) machine dispensed only BJP slips. She said they have sent their report to EC.
VVPAT is a machine which dispenses a slip with the symbol of the party for which a person has voted for. The slip drops in a box but the voter cannot take it home. It has only been used on trial basis in some places.
Latching onto the report, the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which had raised doubts on the functioning of EVM’s after the recent Assembly elections, sought a through probe and return to old ballot paper system in upcoming polls including in Gujarat.
Congress, AAP register complaint at EC
A delegation of senior Congress leader comprising Mohan Prakash, Digvijaya Singh and Jyotiraditya Scindia met Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi here demanded scrapping of EVMs forthwith and action against officials involved.
Delhi Chief Minister and AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal separately met the CEC urging him to investigate cases of “faulty” EVMs and ascertain if their software can be tweaked “in favour of the BJP”. He also demanded ballot papers be reintroduced in the country.
“All parties should be taken into confidence for the credibility and viability of use of EVMs or to revert back to the old system of ballot papers,” the Congress delegation said.
The Congress memorandum said, “in the face of revelations abour tampering of EVMs, it is necessary that the entire process should be reexamined thoroughly and all agencies and persons involved in maintenance, operation and data feedings of machines be examined before use of EVMs in further polls.”
Kejriwal asserted after the meeting that the Election Commission’s claim that EVMs cannot be tampered with is completly “wrong”.“EVMs may be faulty, but every time they record votes for the BJP and not for the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and other parties....
“The incident in Madhya Pradesh’s Bhind district was not the only one. In Assam too, there was a recent case of EVM being tampered with,” he claimed.
Congress general secretary Mohan Prakash said, “We have demanded that elections be held on ballot paper because every section has expressed doubts on EVMs. If there are doubts on votes cast, then democracy is weakened.”
Another party general secretary Digvijay Singh said, “The next elections, be it in Gujarat or elsewhere, should be held with ballot papers and the use of EVMs be stopped.”
He also questioned the “compulsion” of “using EVMs whose chip was imported”.
“When elections all over the world, including in the developed countries, are taking place with ballot paper, why should we have problems in doing so,” Singh said, adding he had doubts on the efficacy of EVMs right from day one.
An Assembly bypoll is due in Ater seat of Bhind district on April 9 where VVPAT-enabled machines would be used and a demonstration in front of state Chief Electoral Officer was part of the familiarisation exercise for poll officials.
“We have sought a detailed report from district election officer and would come up with a response in the evening,” a Commission spokesperson said.
At a hurriedly called press conference in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh Chief Electoral Officer Saleena Singh said her office and the district poll authorities had sent reports on the issue to the Election Commission.
“During the demonstration, the VVPAT first dispensed a slip with (BJP’s) lotus symbol but the second one had (Congress’) hand symbol,” she said.
Singh explained that if the VVPAT slip doesn’t reflect the voter’s choice correctly, one can file a declaration, and the election officer will have to follow a set procedure to verify the claim.
If the officer finds the claim to be correct, the voting will be stopped, the CEO said.
Asked about the reports that she threatened to send mediapersons to jail if they continued to say that VVPAT was dispensing only BJP slips, Singh said, “It was in a lighter vein.”
“Some elements, not mediapersons, twisted the issue,” she added.