Activist's RTI attempt on EVMs hits the wall

The RTI request filed in June had extended over 14 questions over the functioning of EVMs.

Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) — the makers of India’s Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) — rejected a Right to Information (RTI) request filed by a Delhi-based professional who sought to know if flaws in the machines were responsible for ushering the NDA into a second term in office.

Venkatesh Nayak, a coordinator for access to information for the NGO Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, said that he had filed the requests expecting a comprehensive response.

Instead, his RTI request was turned down by the Navratna company and Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL), on the grounds that much of the information sought was protected by law.

“If you conduct elections using electronic voting machines, you are bound to get attacked from various people, political parties and groups who disagree with the poll results.

But the details of the machine cannot be divulged due to security issues,” said M V Gowtama, chairman and managing director of BEL.

Nayak disagreed, saying his intention was to determine if reports about a voter turnout data mismatch as reported by “private citizens and the media” were justified.

He pointed to discrepancies in information by the Election Commission of India (ECI).

According to a release of RTI information in May, BEL’s VVPAT unit was revealed to be capable of recording 1,300 votes while ECIL’s VVPAT can record 1,400 votes per thermal paper.

Nayak pointed to the ECI’s ‘Handbook for Presiding Officers’ of polling stations, which declares that the “maximum number of electors assigned to any polling station is 1,400”.

“This statement will have to be treated as inaccurate in view of the RTI replies from BEL and ECIL,” Nayak said.

“After accounting for 100 VVPAT slips used up during first-level checking and during mock poll prior to the start of actual polling, only 1,200 slips would be available on a BEL-manufactured VVPAT unit.

On ECIL-manufactured VVPAT unit, this will be only 1,300 slips,” he added.

Nayak’s RTI request, which was filed in June, had extended over 14 questions, ranging from the number of votes recordable by EVMs, to the number of Voter Verified Paper Trail (VVPATs) used in the elections, to photocopies of the user manual for the EVMs, to the names and designations of engineers involved in the preparation of the EVM machines.

The companies declined to release the user manual because it was the property of the ECI, plus data about engineers, citing section 81G of the Act which prohibits the disclosure of information which would endanger lives.

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