Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has again raised the bogey of electronic voting machines (EVMs)
as an excuse for the disastrous performance of his Aam Aadmi Party in the Delhi civic polls. The same charges were levelled by the political parties which lost the Assembly elections in five states recently. It was not only BSP supremo Mayawati and Kejriwal who blasted EVMs and refused to accept the mandate but even the Congress which got nearly two-thirds majority in Punjab and emerged as the single largest party in Goa and Manipur joined the bandwagon to condemn the machine. It was pathetic to see former prime minister Manmohan Singh joining the delegation of leaders who met the President to complain against the alleged tampering of EVMs. It was only Singh's then cabinet colleague M Veerappa Moily who pooh-poohed the charge of tampering the EVMs. The Election Commission of India (ECI) has thrown an open gauntlet to all those accusing the EVMs of tamper ability to show in the first week of May how the machine could be hacked. Earlier, in 2009 also, the ECI conducted such an exercise challenging the doubters to demonstrate tampering. But none could prove it. The Union government has sanctioned Rs 3,174 crore for introducing Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) so that the electorate is doubly satisfied that the votes they cast have gone to the right candidates. A total of 16.15 lakh VVPAT machines are to be purchased to cover all polling stations in the next Lok Sabha polls in 2019. Sixteen parties had urged the EC to revert to the old paper ballot system to ensure transparency. Before the introduction of EVMs, losers in the elections invariably held booth capturing and rigging responsible for their defeat. The introduction of VVPATs is long overdue. In Subramanian Swamy v ECI (2013), the Supreme Court lauded the ECI for taking many steps to introduce it. The Commission held an all-party meeting in 2011 which unanimously endorsed the idea of introducing VVPATs. Ruling that the paper trail is an "indispensable requirement of free and fair elections", the apex court directed the Centre to provide the requisite funds for the purchase of VVPAT machines. However, the fund was not released and machines could not be procured. Now, since the fund has been sanctioned, the bottleneck has been removed. But it may not satisfy the naysayers who may raise fingers after defeat even then as the paper trail cannot be collected by the voter. It will appear on the EVM and will be dumped there. However, it can be countered if someone challenges the result. It may be interesting to briefly summarise the history of EVMs to understand the whole gamut of issues involved. Fingers were raised against it when it was tried out as a pilot project during the Kerala Assembly elections in 1982 and CPI candidate Sivan Pillai challenged their use even before polls were held. Ironically, Pillai emerged victorious. But it did not subside the controversy as the Congress party, unable to digest defeat, challenged the election in the high court which rejected the argument that the Representation of People Act, 1951, and Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, did not provide for the use of EVMs. However, the Supreme Court upheld the contention of the petitioner in appeal and set aside the judgement of the high court. This legal technicality was redressed in 1988 as the RP Act was amended providing for the use of EVMs. The Supreme Court had based its decision on the absence of any provision in the Act, but had not commented on the possibility of their tampering. Those citing the examples of countries like the Netherlands and Germany for giving up EVMs are telling only the half truth. In the Netherlands, it was a networkable PC-type of machine running on OS, while in Germany, it was discontinued on the orders of its Supreme Court since the law did not have any enabling provision as the Indian Supreme Court did in 1984 in the Kerala case. Stand-alone equipment It has been clarified umpteen times that an EVM is a stand-alone equipment which is not connected by internet or any wireless communication device like a mobile phone which can remote control it. It is programmable only at the time its chip is manufactured but once it comes into use, programmes cannot be altered. Even during manufacturing, EVMs undergo a variety of tests. Independent, authorized and competent agencies carry out these tests and machines are selected at random. Nobody has been able to prove that the software, once fused into the chip, can be tampered or changed. Another vital feature is that an EVM can register only five votes per minute. Till date, over 100 elections have been conducted using EVMs. Winners never cast any doubts while the same people after losing subsequent elections raise fingers on their being foolproof. The ECI has acquired a great credibility and is respected worldwide. It has rebutted the charges: "Such concerns about alleged tamper-ability of ECI-EVMs have been raised earlier also since their introduction, including before the high court and the Supreme Court. These allegations have been dismissed. The ECI unequivocally reiterates that given effective technical and administrative safeguards, EVMs are not tamper-able and the integrity of electoral process is preserved." The EVMs ensure that no ballot papers are torn, snatched and inked against the will of genuine voters, no ballot boxes are stolen and no ink is poured into them spoiling votes. Besides, it is much faster and nobody has the patience to get back to the older and tiring system of opening boxes, mixing ballots and then going for counting which went for days in some cases. Free and fair poll is the cornerstone of a democracy. But raising doubts about EVMs' fairness without any substantial evidence and not able to prove it goes against the basic tenets of democracy and insulting the mandate.