Holding simultaneous polls not easy task for EC

Poll panel may find tough to procure EVMs, VVPATs

Holding simultaneous polls not easy task for EC

The Election Commission (EC) may find it difficult to procure enough Electronic Voting Machines and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail devices to hold simultaneous polls in the near future.

The discussion over the feasibility of holding simultaneous polls gained momentum this week after Election Commissioner O P Rawat commented on the logistical preparedness to conduct national and state elections together.

A source in the commission, however, said that the EC’s own promise to deploy Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) devices with all the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in all future polls made it all the more difficult for it to be logistically ready to hold simultaneous elections in the next two years, even if a political consensus was evolved and legal hurdles were overcome.

On April 3, the EC stated that it had 53,500 VVPATs and on April 21 it issued a Letter of Intent for the purchase of 16,15,000 VVPATs at an estimated cost of Rs 3,173.47 crore during 2017-18 and 2018-19 from Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL). The EC communicated to BEL and ECIL its intent to purchase 8,07,500 VVPATs from each public sector undertaking by September 2018.

The number of VVPATs available with the EC is thus expected to go up to 16,68,500 within the next one year.

So the EC may have enough VVPATs to deploy with all the EVMs it will use for polling in the 14 states where Assembly elections will be held later this year, wnext year and 2019, as well as for the Lok Sabha elections in April-May 2019.

But another source in the EC said the commission would require much more EVMs and VVPATs if elections to all state assemblies and the Lok Sabha were to be held simultaneously in 2018 or 2019.

The EC had written to the Ministry of Law and Justice in May 2016 that it would require at least 25 lakh VVPATs to hold simultaneous elections.

The commission would thus have a shortage of about 8 lakh VVPATs if it would have to hold Assembly and parliamentary polls together towards the end of 2018.

Even if the elections to all the assemblies are held together with the Lok Sabha polls in 2019, it might still be difficult to procure the required number of VVPATs, the source said.

A NITI Ayog discussion paper on the proposal of simultaneous polls – co-authored by eminent economist Bibek Debroy with the panel’s official Kishore Desai – noted that the EC would require more than 8 lakh additional EVMs, only if the elections for the 14 states - which would go to polls over the next 20 months - were held along with the Lok Sabha polls in mid-2019.

The EC currently has about 17 lakh EVMs but it plans to phase out by 2019 about 9.3 lakhs machines which were purchased before 2006.

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