With delay in VVPAT units, advancing Lok Sabha Polls uncertain!

With delay in VVPAT units, advancing Lok Sabha Polls uncertain!
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New Delhi: After various reports on EVM tampering in the polls resulting in victory of certain parties raised question on the accuracy of EVM machines, the Election Commission is now struggling to meet the deadline it has committed to SC for 16 lakhs voter-verifiable paper audit trail(VVPAT) machines to be used in the upcoming Lok Sabha 2019 elections according to a latest RTI reply.

Last year on April 24, 2017, the EC had filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court committing to introduce VVPATs in all polling stations for the 2019 general elections in order to avoid the EVM machines tampering, Indian Express reported.

The EC had also committed that the required 16 lake VVPATs machines will be manufactured by PSUs — Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) in Bengaluru and Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) in Hyderabad by September 2018.

But now almost after 14 months of the commitment made in Apex court, the poll panel has only received 3.48 lake units that are only 22 percent of the target with now only three months left to meet the deadline.

This has a direct bearing on the debate and speculation over early general elections. Given the current shortfall in the VVPAT numbers, any move to advance Lok Sabha polls will have to deal with logistical challenges.

So what exactly is VVPAT machine unit? A VVPAT unit produces a printout of the vote cast using the EVMs which is shown to the voter before depositing in the box. But will this solve and prove the accuracy of the polls, remains a big question since the tampering of voter’s polls could be easily done even with the printouts.

The EC has so far placed VVPATS units in Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka assembly.

Now EC requires to deploy 16.35 lakh Control Units (CUs), 22.37 lakh Ballot Units (BUs) and 16.35 lakh VVPATs. One CU and one BU together make an EVM for the entire nation.

EC’s commitment to providing 16 lakhs VVPATs units for the entire nation is based on a new model which are of a new make called M3 having features different from the existing models and, hence, the entire election staff will have to be adequately trained on their usage. Moreover, the first-level check on all these machines, to determine their proper functioning, will need a lead time of about six months.

“It is, therefore, imperative that all the newly manufactured EVMs and VVPATs by BEL and ECIL are delivered to the district warehouses, latest by September 2018 and there is no scope for any extension or delay in this deadline,” EC had stated.

But documents accessed under the RTI Act by Indian Express shows that EC has, time and again, expressed concern over the delay in supply, which includes the SOS sent last December to the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Atomic Energy — the parent ministries of BEL and ECIL respectively.

“The past performance of M/s ECIL, as well as the cumulative experience of their work on the conception and finalisation of M3 design, does not inspire requisite confidence in their ability to get design approvals before December 2017 and then manufacture and deliver the huge allocation of EVMs and VVPATs by September 2018,” EC had stated on September 14, 2017.

EC Deputy commissioner Sudeep Jain on December 8, 2017 Sudeep Jain had written to Department of Atomic Energy Secretary Shekhar Basu, discussing the progress of ECILs performance until November 2017 which was only 12,000 VVPATs against the ordered quantity of 3.49 lakh BUs, 2.32 lakh CUs and 5.515 lakh VVPATs.

Jain in his letter sought Basu’s “personal intervention” in the matter to review the production and supply of EVMs and VVPATs by ECIL. A similar letter was also dispatched to the Defence Secretary on BEL’s performance.

“Legislative Department is of the view that technical and other glitches should have been discussed across the table with the manufacturers and all the sticking points ironed out in time to obviate the present situation of alarm, with hardly nine months left for the deadline of September 2018,” Raju said in his letter.