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The Delhi High Court will on January 10 next take a call on whether the upcoming Assembly elections in five States will be conducted through the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) or e-ballot papers.
Taking a note of the urgency involved in the matter given the Assembly polls in Uttarakhand, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Goa and Manipur early next year, the court allowed the plea of petitioner Subramanian Swamy for urgent disposal of the matter.
Janata Party president Swami had alleged that voting through EVMs lacked transparency and either paper printouts should be incorporated in the EVMs or the Election Commission should return to the ballot paper system to avoid tampering at the time of polls.
This assumes significance in wake of the controversy surrounding the use of EVMs in India amid allegations that they are not tamper-proof. The row over the issue had intensified after the general elections in 2009 with several Opposition parties including the BJP demanding that polls in India be conducted through ballot papers. Similar demand was made prior to the local body elections in Gujarat and Maharashtra.
Arguing before a division bench of acting Chief Justice AK Sikri and Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw, Swamy insisted that ‘transparency’ had to be given priority over ‘efficiency’ in the poll process.
He said that the electronic database in the EVMs is controlled by micro-processor chips that are not tamper-proof. He cited instances of other European democracies where ballot paper continues to be the mode of voting despite being technologically advanced than India.
The counsel appearing for the Election Commission sought to convince that paper trail or the use of ballot papers was not feasible as not only it would require immense expenditure but also result in cutting down forests given the huge quantity of paper that would be required for the purpose.
“There are 10 lakh voting centres in the country and 73 crore voters. Voting through ballot papers would require huge expenditure besides cutting down of trees. We are still exploring the possible modifications in the EVMs. The EVMs have a benefit that electronic database in them can be reconstructed anytime,” the counsel said.
Interestingly, an expert committee appointed by the EC is considering introduction of “paper trail” so that voters can get a printout that will show symbol on which the vote was cast. The voter will be required to put it in a box before leaving the polling booth. For this, the a small printer can be installed along with the EVMs.
The technical expert committee on EVMs, headed by Prof PV Indiresan, former Director of IIT-M has also held discussion with officials of the Bharat Electronic Limited and Electronic Corporation.
The EC appointed the committee on October 8 last when at an all-party meeting majority of political parties backed the proposal to have a ‘voter verifiable paper trail’ in EVMs to counter the charges of tampering. The BJP had been in the forefront of this demand.
Referring the matter to the three-member committee, the EC in its Press note said, “Several political parties have suggested the possibility of incorporating a ‘voter verifiable paper trail’ in EVMs to be explored.”
In the background of severe indictment of EVMs and the fact that Indirsan committee is yet to take a final call on the matter, the stout opposition to the proposal by EC counsel seen as a surprising development.