RTI Reveals Pvt Consultants Have EVM Access, Why is EC Denying It? POONAM AGARWAL in The Quint.
The Election Commission of India has always maintained that no private company or outsourcing in any form is involved in the election process. But The Quint’s investigation has found this to not be true.
An RTI in The Quint’s possession shows that the Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL), a PSU that manufactures EVMs and VVPAT machines, engaged private engineers as “consultants” and that these private engineers have worked with the Election Commission in Assembly Elections since 2017 and even in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
Their job was extremely sensitive – to check and maintain EVMs and VVPATs, starting from First level Checking (FLC) right up till and including the Counting Day, which means they had easy access to EVMs through the course of the elections.
NowPOONAM AGARWAL writes in The Quint, which has been investigating the issue for some time.
The current state of India’s Election Commission (EC) raises doubts about its transparency and fairness, especially when we find that it is misleading the public in its RTI replies.
The EC was constituted in 1950 to conduct free and fair elections, and was established as an autonomous body solely so that it can work independently. Is that what it’s doing?
The Quint filed an RTI seeking information and documents on the VVPAT count data during the Lok Sabha elections 2019. In reply, the EC refused to share the documents on the grounds that the VVPAT data is not available with the Commission (which means, at the EC headquarters in Delhi).
Serious Irregularities in the Conduct of General Elections, 2019
We are a group of former civil servants that takes up, from time to time, matters of exceptional national interest, seeking to remind our cherished democratic institutions of their responsibility to uphold the lofty ideals of the Constitution. We write to you today to draw your attention to the several very troubling and still unexplained issues pertaining to the conduct of the General Elections, 2019, by the Election Commission of India (ECI).
In an earlier post we made note of the serious matter of unaccounted movement of EVMs in private vehicles in different parts of the country and the mismatch between the ECI figures for voter turnout and EVM votes cast, neither of which the EC has satisfactorily explained until today.
Now in a detailed analysis in NewsClick, Ravi Nair points out that even three weeks after the last phase of the election, ECI is yet to publish the “final data”, and whatever it has put out till now is “provisional numbers”. More worryingly, Nair points out that when glaring anomalies came into the public domain, ECI not only deleted the uploaded data from both Suvidha Portal and its main website, but also issued a release to say that whatever was published was “the provisional voter turnout data”, which was “tentative”.
However, the ECI never bothered to answer the fundamental questions: How did it announce winners based on these “provisional” and “tentative” data? How did the automated counting of votes polled in EVMs become “tentative”?
This is the elephant in the room, is it not? Was this “massive mandate” of the Lok Sabha elections 2019, the result of a free and fair election? Should we continue to discuss this outcome – the scale of the BJP victory, the numbers of seats, the margins by which seats were won – through political analysis alone?
Rather, has not political analysis of the election become inevitably deeply influenced by these margins and these numbers of seats, by the scale of the sweep? In other words, the analysis is of necessity post facto, assuming that these seats have actually been won fairly, and therefore represent the views of the electorate.
I found very revealing a story by two Reuters journalists who covered rural North India extensively. Mayank Bhardwaj and Rajendra Jadhav ruminate on how they could have gone so wrong in assessing the mood of the electorate. Although they say they never thought Modi would lose this election, it looked certain that he would return with a reduced majority. There was nothing they heard and observed on the ground that suggested the actual outcome. They conclude that next time they will travel even more, push their respondents harder, “be more aware of our limitations.”
Many seasoned journalists have the same sense of shock. But what if they were not wrong after all?
Reports of manipulations of Electronic Voting Machines across constituencies have been coming in, and discrepancies in voting figures have been noted in some constituencies. Earlier, before the elections, there had been reports of two machines in Assam that were so programmed as to vote BJP, whichever button you pressed. A Congress counterpart of this was also discovered in Maharashtra. These reports were then dismissed as aberrations. The question now, it seems, is far more serious. Here is a report from Dainik Jagaran (Varanasi edition), that reports that a Sector Magistrate who had taken the machines home is now in trouble after the EC had to investigate an allegation to this effect and found it to be true. Acdcording to the report, the son of the magistrate concerned took some photographs and posted them on Facebook. One of them went viral.
The self-righteous Delhi based mainstream media has of course chosen to ignore this news completely; Jagaran has at least reported it, even it actually minimizes the significance of this lapse. Here is the Jagaran report:
Of course, this is not the first time that this has happened. Earlier, soon after the 2009 elections too, serious allegations had been raised and this is what one report in Huffington Post had observed:
From May 6 onwards, the candidate’s name was ‘coded’, based on their position on the EVM, and the number of ‘votes polled’ were added, even though voting had yet to take place in many constituencies and, even where voting had taken place, votes were yet to be counted. Even more confounding, the ‘votes polled’ numbers were adjusted in subsequent spreadsheets before the results were announced.
The matter is very serious and needs to be pursued. Investigations continue.