Finally, the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) controversy has reached the apex court.
It is not surprising considering the plethora of doubts expressed by almost all political parties and many highly-placed social activists and experts on the reliability of this wonder machine.
Experts are unanimous that it is not tamper-proof. It is not only the losers in the 2009 general election who have questioned the reliability of EVMs. The Congress leaders in Orissa too have joined hands with the BJP to file a petition in the court and take up a mass awareness campaign to protest the alleged large-scale tampering of the instrument in the state during election. Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad is on record alleging that manipulation of voting machines had led to the Congress defeat in Orissa. Azad is the party in-charge in the state. The Leader of Opposition LK Advani has demanded the replacing of EVMs with ballot papers. His view was supported by almost all parties including the CPI(M), AIADMK, TDP and Janata Dal(U). Such wide-spread doubts about the EVM is not good for the health of Indian democracy. The RSS former Sarsanghachalak KS Sudarshan, questioning the credibility of EVMs, in Cuttack, the other day, said, the general elections have become a contempt of democracy, as machines are playing a greater role than the voters. He pointed out that EVMs are not being used in developed countries like Germany and the USA. It is time to replace it with ballot paper, he said. It is not that the people’s verdict in the poll-2009 is being questioned. That, so many well-founded arguments have come up about the possibility of tampering with the EVM to manipulate the electoral outcome is a good enough reason to rethink on it.
Election Commission of India has received a number of complaints about EVM malpractices from all over the country. The recent spate of articles published in reputed computer engineering magazines and the international press has raised doubts about the integrity of EVMs. Each step in the life cycle of a voting machine—from the time it is developed and installed to when the votes are recorded and the data transferred to a central repository for tallying—involves different people gaining access to the machine, often installing a new software. It will not be hard, according to experts, to plant a parallel programme under another password on one or many voting machines that would, before voters arrived at the polling stations, ensure a pre-determined outcome. The Election Commission was aware of the fundamental flaws in the EVMs since 2000. But no effort was made to correct them. Nor were precautions taken. The debate now has come not only because the Lok Sabha results surprised many, but also because of the unexpected number of seats won or lost by some parties. Of course, the AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa and the TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu have taken up the anti-EVM campaign in a big way because of the stunning performance of the ruling party in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh respectively. Even neutral agencies and individuals have pointed to the chance of rigging in these elections.
Experts say that the fundamental flaws in the EVM, which were pointed out to the EC by experts, have not so far been rectified. In 2004, a Supreme Court bench comprising the then Chief Justice VN Khare and two other judges directed the EC to consider the technical flaws in the EVM. This directive came as a result of a PIL filed by Satinath Choudhary, a US-based software engineer. But the EC did not budge. Now several High Courts in the country are hearing PILs on EVMs. And a PIL has reached the Supreme Court also. What is now proved convincingly is that EVMs are not protected against rigging and the EC has not made it tamper-proof in spite of clinching evidence to that effect. It is not a bad-idea for the EC to call an all-party meeting on the subject and review suggestions for restoring the credibility of the electoral system.