From accolades to scepticism: An eventful story of EVMs

The journey of the EVM has been quite eventful with several political parties questioning its reliability and others hailing how quickly results are announced with little scope of rigging.
Last Updated : 01 March 2024, 06:58 IST
Last Updated : 01 March 2024, 06:58 IST

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New Delhi: When the first elector presses a button on the ballot unit to vote in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, the electronic voting machine (EVM) will have reached the important milestone of being used in five parliamentary polls since 2004.

The journey of the EVM has been quite eventful with several political parties questioning its reliability and others hailing how quickly results are announced with little scope of rigging.

The EVM was first conceived in 1977. Its prototype was developed by the Electronics Corporation of India Ltd (ECIL), Hyderabad, a PSU under the Department of Atomic Energy, in 1979.

A demonstration of the machine was given by the Election Commission (EC) before the representatives of political parties on August 6, 1980.

After reaching a broad consensus on the introduction of EVMs, the EC issued directives under Article 324 of the Constitution for their use. On May 19, 1982, the machines were used on a pilot basis in 50 polling stations during election to Parur assembly seat in Kerala.

The use of EVMs without an express provision in the law was later challenged in the Supreme Court.

The apex court refrained from making any comment on the defects or advantages of EVMs but it held that the EC's order regarding casting of ballots by machines was without jurisdiction.

The election of the winning candidate from Parur constituency with respect to the 50 polling stations where the EVMs were used was set aside.

The Representation of the People Act was amended in December 1988 and a new section, 61A, was included in the law, empowering the EC to use EVMs. The amendment came into force on March 15, 1989.

After Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL), Bengaluru, a Defence Ministry PSU, demonstrated an EVM prototype, it was selected along with ECIL to manufacture the machines.

In 1990, the central government instituted an Electoral Reforms Committee under Dinesh Goswami with representatives from several national and state parties.

The committee recommended the examination of EVMs by a team of technical experts. The expert committee unanimously recommended the use of EVMs without any further delay, marking it technically sound, secure and transparent.

In 1998, a general consensus was reached on the use of EVMs for conducting Indian elections and they were used in 16 assembly constituencies across Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi.

The use of EVMs was further expanded in 1999 to 46 parliamentary constituencies, and in February 2000, the machines were used in 45 assembly seats in Haryana polls. EVMs were used in all assembly elections thereafter.

In the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, EVMs were used in all 543 constituencies.

A number of technological changes were made in the EVMs in 2001 and the machines were further upgraded in 2006.

The pre-2006 era EVMs are known as 'M1 EVMs', while those manufactured between 2006 to 2010 are called 'M2 EVMs'. The latest generation of EVMs, produced since 2013, are known as 'M3 EVMs'.

To improve the transparency and verifiability in the poll process, the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 were amended in 2013 to introduce the use of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines.

They were first used in the by-election for the Noksen assembly seat in Nagaland.

At least one ballot unit, one control unit and one VVPAT make up one EVM.

The tentative cost of an EVM included Rs 7,900 per ballot unit, Rs 9,800 per control unit and Rs 16,000 per VVPAT.

Since 2019, VVPAT slips from five randomly selected polling stations per constituency are matched with the EVM count for greater transparency.

According to the EC, there has been no mismatch so far.

Several opposition parties, including those part of the I.N.D.I.A. bloc, have demanded that slips in all constituencies should be matched with the EVM count for greater transparency and have questioned the reliability of EVMs.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had once dubbed EVM as 'Modi Voting Machine' (MVM) while former Uttar Pradesh chief minister and BSP leader Mayawati has been demanding that the ballot system be reintroduced.

The government, however, has gone on record to say that there is no proposal to reintroduce the ballot system.

In a written reply in the Lok Sabha in August last year, Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal had said that the EC has informed that some representations have been received regarding the reintroduction of the ballot system.

The EC, he said, has been conducting elections using EVMs since 1982. The use of EVMs and VVPAT machines is legally sanctioned by the Parliament in the form of clear provisions in the Representation of the People Act, he noted.

On concerns raised by opposition parties over the efficacy of EVMs, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Rajiv Kumar had recently said it was the poll panel's responsibility to convince political parties.

He also said that over the years, EVMs have given results in favour of all those who have raised concerns over its reliability.

Former CEC Sunil Arora, who oversaw the last parliamentary polls, has lamented that EVMs were being treated like a 'football' by parties suffering electoral losses.

'It is not possible to manipulate EVMs. They are definitely foolproof as far as apprehensions of conspiracy and manipulation are concerned. But technical snags are possible as in case of any other device,' he said, adding that they are promptly fixed.

Interestingly, EVMs work as an aggregator of votes in direct elections and not for a system of proportional representation like Presidential and Rajya Sabha polls.

Published 01 March 2024, 06:58 IST

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