Even as the Election Commission (EC) dismissed reports over movement of EVMs from strongrooms ahead of counting of votes for the Lok Sabha elections on May 23, terming these as “baseless”, complaints and concerns continued to pour in over the safety of electronic voting machines.
On Tuesday, 22 Opposition parties petitioned the EC demanding verification of VVPAT (Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail) slips of randomly selected polling stations before the counting of the votes polled in the just-concluded Lok Sabha election begins on May 23. They also demanded that if any discrepancy was found during VVPAT verification, 100% counting of the paper slips of all polling stations of that particular Assembly segment should be done and compared with the EVM results.
"We told the EC that the VVPAT machines should be counted first and if there is any discrepancy, then all of them in that segment should be counted," Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad told reporters here after meeting EC officials.
Earlier in the day, former President Pranab Mukherjee also expressed his concern over the alleged tampering of voters’ verdict.
“The safety and security of EVMs which are in the custody of ECI is the responsibility of the commission. There can be no room for speculations that challenge the very basis of our democracy. People’s mandate is sacrosanct and has to be above any iota of reasonable doubt,” he said in the statement.
Many political parties including Congress, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Aam Aadmi Party and People’s Democratic Party also urged the EC to look into the complaints.
The Congress urged the EC to take immediate and effective steps to address the complaints of movement of EVMs from strongrooms from various parts of the country.
"Complaints about movement of EVMs are coming from various parts of the country. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Punjab -- there have been complaints of taking out of EVMs from strongrooms from various places. People's suspicion and anger are increasing," party spokesperson Rajiv Shukla said.
The reason that was being given was that these were the reserve machines, but even then, the EVMs should be shown to the candidates' representatives, Shukla added.
The CPI(M) has also written to the EC alleging "large-scale irregularities" in the May 19 polling held in the Diamond Harbour Lok Sabha constituency of West Bengal.
In his letter, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury alleged that the scale of irregularities were such that the EC should invoke Article 324 of the Constitution. Article 324 deals with vesting of superintendence, direction and control of elections in an Election Commission.
"The ECI must ensure 'free-and-fair' elections by ordering re-polling in the entire constituency," Yechury said.
"I am besieging you to look into the large-scale, brazen irregularities which are clearly detailed in Dr Fuad Halim's letter, cancel the poll of May 19 and order a re-polling in the constituency," Yechury wrote in his letter to the EC.
In Kashmir, PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, said the silence of the EC was worrying even after "evidence" had come to the fore that the EVMs used in the just-concluded Lok Sabha polls were being switched.
"Worrying that despite solid evidence about EVMs being switched, @ECISVEEP hasn’t clarified any of these concerns. A farcical wave backed by dubious exit polls followed by manipulating EVMs is another Balakot in the making," she said in a tweet.
Reacting to exit polls predicting a clear majority for the BJP-led NDA in the next Lok Sabha, the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister said a poll victory of the saffron party should not deter the resolve of people to fight for what is right.
"BJP winning or losing isn't the end of the world. True that institutions were subverted & press standards plummeted. Yet many in the system & journalists with integrity stood up & raised their voices. Hope these results don't deter their resolve to fight for what's right," Mehbooba said.
Earlier, Mumbai Congress president Milind Deora wrote to the Maharashtra Chief Electoral Officer expressing possibility of "tampering of EVMs" stored in various centres in the city. Deora, who is contesting from Mumbai South seat, alleged that he had received "very shocking" feedback about such possibility.
He alleged that some people as well as vehicles were found moving around these centres in a suspicious manner. All six constituencies in Mumbai had gone to polls on April 29.
Such instances create serious doubts and fear about the safety and security of the EVMs, he said, requesting the State EC to increase vigilance and security at these counting centres to prevent tampering of EVM units in any manner.
Deora also demanded that passwords of CCTV cameras installed at these centres be provided to Congress party so that it can monitor movements at these centres round the clock.
In Delhi, AAP’s South Delhi candidate Raghav Chadha urged the EC to appoint an independent observer exclusively to oversee the safety and security of EVMs. In his letter to the EC, he said: “alarming as it may be, this would not be the first time that an attack on the electoral system may take place. We request that the CRPF security at Jijabai Institute where South Delhi’s EVMs are housed be tightened. It is further requested that additional CRPF personnel may be deployed to keep watch over the strong rooms around the clock.”
Protests in UP
Meanwhile, protests broke out in some parts of Uttar Pradesh on Tuesday after videos of alleged movement and tampering of EVMs went viral on social media, a charge dismissed by the EC as "frivolous" and "unfounded".
Workers of various parties held protests in Ghazipur, Chandauli and Dumariyaganj alleging that EVMs were being "moved around" outside strongrooms. A video clip of EVMs being off-loaded and put in a room inside the counting centre complex in Chandauli was doing the rounds on social media. BJP's state unit president Mahendra Nath Pandey is seeking re-election from the seat.
Another video is from Ghazipur where SP-BSP alliance candidate Afzal Ansari is seen staging protest alleging that the administration was trying to change EVMs. In the video, Ansari and his supporters were seen having a heated exchange with a police officer. The officer is urging them to clear the area, but the leader and his supporters refuse to budge, claiming there was an attempt to take out a vehicle loaded with EVMs.
Chief Electoral Officer of the state Venkateshwarlu allayed fears of political parties.
Referring to the Ghazipur incident, he said the candidate wanted more number of people to keep a watch on EVMs on the basis of his apprehensions and the DM there has satisfied him and those staging protest have returned.
On Chandauli, he said the issue pertains to unused EVMs which had been brought back and after talks they were kept separately from the used ones kept in the strong room. There are CCTV cameras installed in strong rooms. Candidates are allowed to keep a watch on strong rooms through their representatives. All apprehensions are unfounded, he said.
"EVMS and VVPATs were sealed properly in front of political party candidates. CCTV cameras are installed ... one representative of each candidate is present. The allegations are baseless,” an EC report said.
In view of the viral videos, political parties have directed their leaders, candidates and workers to remain extra vigilant in all districts where EVMs have been stored. All the Opposition parties have issued directives to their district and city units asking their cadres to prepare for counting of votes.
Fearing irregularities during counting of votes, the high command of all opposition parties have asked their cadres not to be lax in maintaining security of strongrooms where EVMs have been kept.