Mumbai: In a significant development, the Bombay High Court on Wednesday ordered issue of notices to the Election Commission, Maharashtra State Election Commission (M-SEC) and two public sector makers of electronic voting machines (EVM) and others in a public interest litigation filed by an RTI activist.
The directions were given by Justice S.S. Kemkar and Justice S.V. Kotwal when the PIL filed by activist Manoranjan S. Roy came up for admission.
Others being served notices are the Union Home Ministry, IT Department and the Maharashtra government. The two EVM manufacturers are Electronics Corp of India Ltd. and Bharat Electronics Ltd.
The court directed the Additional Solicitor-General of India and state Advocate-General to appear at the next hearing, likely on October 3, said Roy's lawyers, counsel S.P. Chaudhari, P. Pawar and Santosh Saroj, instructed by Pawar & Company.
In March 2018, Pawar & Company had filed Roy's PIL, seeking detailed investigations into the delivery of EVMs and a ban on deploying EVMs/VVPATs till the outcome of the probe.
The petitioner, among other things, had highlighted the manner in which a large number of EVMs and Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPATs) were being ordered by the EC and various SECs and that there were huge contradictions in the figures of orders and supplies made by the two manufacturers.
In recent RTI queries raised by Roy, it had been revealed how the Bengaluru-based BEL had despatched large quantities of electronic voting machines by 'hand-delivery' and 'by post' to various unidentified recipients.
BEL said it had despatched 820 balloting units (BUs) of the machines in bulk packaging, and on two occasions in April (2017) it sent 245 (VVPAT) machines 'By Hand', to certain recipients and destinations, according to the RTI replies given to Roy.
Roy told IANS that on both the occasions, BEL did not state to whom the consignments of BUs were 'posted' or from where the entire lot of the 'hand-delivered' VVPATs originated and whether they were received safely by the intended recipients.
Roy said that for the entire lot of 820 BUs sent through India Post, there are only nine Docket Nos. assigned for the total consignment, which comprises two boxes with 50 BUs each and one box each with 60, 70, 80, 90, 100, 110 and 210 BUs.
"This is misleading as each box has a specific size depending on the dimensions of the BUs. The BEL's reply shows the entire consignment was posted in only nine boxes, though the Indian Posts does not accept -- nor is equipped to handle -- such huge parcels," Roy said.
BEL said on April 6 and April 10, 2017 that it delivered VVPATs in three parcels -- 65, 70 and 110 respectively -- 'By Hand' and 'urgent delivery' to avoid the regular logistics route.
As the country prepares for the 2019 general elections, several instances of "indiscriminate" orders and deliveries of EVMs have emerged in RTI responses, Roy said.
Between 1989-1990 and 2015-2016, BEL supplied 125,149 EVMs to Karnataka, 169,975 to Bihar, 159,900 to Uttar Pradesh, 140,500 to Tamil Nadu, 87,325 to Andhra Pradesh, 50,850 to Gujarat, 50,050 to Rajasthan, 23,000 to Jharkhand, 10,000 to Delhi, 3,000 to Manipur and 2,000 to Sikkim.
Inexplicably, BEL also supplied 500 EVMs to Chandigarh, which is the only city to get its own machines. Elsewhere, the EVMs go to the respective states from where they are distributed. Roy demanded that BEL -- and the Election Commission -- must explain why Chandigarh got this treatment.
According to information received by Roy, in 2013-14, BEL supplied the highest number of VVPATs -- 2,455 -- to Karnataka, followed by 2,275 to Bihar, 2,140 to Gujarat, 1,500 to Mizoram, 1,475 to Tamil Nadu, 130 to Delhi and 25 to EC.
The other EVM supplier, Electronics Corp of India Ltd. (ECIL), Hyderabad, said in response to RTI queries that in 2014-15 it had supplied 10,000 VVPATs to the Commission (EC).
Significantly, ECIL earlier said it had not supplied a single EVM to any state between 2006-07 till 2013-14.
In another communication under RTI, ECIL stated that in 2004-05 it had supplied 91,050 BUs and 91,050 Control Units (CUs) and from 2014 to 2017 it had sent out 294,337 BUs and 109,075 CUs.
"So where are all these huge number of machines now? The ECIL and EC must clarify," Roy said.
The Kerala State Election Commission (KSEC) said in response to RTI queries that in 2015 it had ordered 128,154 EVMs, comprising 9,753 boxes of BUs and 3,125 boxes of CUs. Each box has an average capacity of holding 10 BUs or CUs, depending on the model.
Roy said that there was inadequate accounting of EVMs at various stages, raising questions about the sanctity of the machines on which the Indian democracy was so dependent.
Also, there were no proper records of the EVMs that were actually deployed for elections, the details of defective/defunct machines, the different types of models acquired and used and the type of software-hardware used, he added.
Further, in view of the latest statement by the EC that EVMs used in recent Delhi University elections were supplied by manufacturers directly and were 'distinctly different' than those supplied to the Commission, detailed accounting of the machines is required, Roy told IANS.