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Editorial

It needs to be paper trail or paper ballots

18-Jan-2017

Posted 19 Oct 2013

The Supreme Court has directed the Election Commission to use voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) facility in electronic voting machines.

A Bench of Chief Justice P Sathasivam and Justice Ranjan Gogoi said in the order: “We are satisfied that the paper trail is an indispensable requirement for free and fair elections. The confidence of the voters in the EVMs can be achieved only with the introduction of paper trail. With intent to have fullest transparency in the system and to restore the confidence of the voters, it is necessary to set up EVMs with VVPAT system because vote is nothing but an act of expression which has immense importance in democratic system.”

The court directed the Union government to provide required financial assistance for procurement of VVPAT units to incorporate a system of paper trail in EVMs, estimated to cost Rs. 1,690 crore.

The Supreme Court order is under Article 324 of the Constitution which entrusts ECI the responsibility of conducting elections in a free and fair manner. Standing on false prestige, the EC was for long opposed to VVPAT and even became vindictive against those who suspected the integrity of the existing EVMs.

Hari Prasad, a software engineer who demonstrated the vulnerability of these machines to the EC was abruptly stopped and a criminal case registered against him. The biggest drawback of these machines is that since the vote count takes place inside the machine, there is no way by which the result can be cross-checked.

Only after Subramanian Swamy, then president of the Janata Party, filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking to scrap EVMs as they lacked transparency, and the court decided to hear the matter on a priority basis, did the EC relent and assured the court that it was consulting technical experts to ensure that EVMs were made transparent and not tampered with. The commission did a trial run of EVMs with VVPAT in 180 polling stations in different States and gave its seal of approval.

On the suggestion of ECI, the ministry of Law and Justice has already amended the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, to enable the use of VVPAT with EVMs, and notified in the Gazette of India.

Since the Supreme Court has declared that the paper trail is an indispensable requirement for free and fair elections, its mandate should be met in all polling booths in all constituencies. But the court, while “appreciating the efforts and good gesture made by the ECI in introducing VVPAT,” permitted it to implement the same “in gradual stages or geographical-wise in the ensuing general election. The area, State or actual booths are to be decided by the ECI.”

The EC would require 10 lakh VVPAT-compatible EVMs to conduct the general election, due only in May next year. Six months are more than enough to equip the required EVMs. The estimated cost of Rs. 1,690 crore for the conversion is well within means.

A country that is about to send a mission to the Mars can certainly equip all EVMs with VVPAT facility in the next six months to enable EC to have the paper trail, considered “an indispensable requirement for free and fair elections” by the Supreme Court, in all the 10 lakh booths. If the EC is unable to comply with the requirement, it should revert to paper ballots. Selective use of EVMs with VVPAT at the discretion of the EC is bound to raise doubts in the minds of the voters and shatter their confidence in fair polls.

  • Wednesday, January 18, 2017