New Delhi: The Election Commission (EC) held a meeting with all recognised national and State political parties today at the Constitution Club in the capital city to discuss issues, if any, with the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) and the Voter-Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT). The commission also discussed the modalities of making bribery in elections a cognizable offence.
The EC also discussed whether a candidate could be disqualified on framing of charges against him or her for bribery in elections. It invited suggestions on VVPAT recount rules.
Seven national parties and 35 State parties attended the meeting.
In his inaugural address, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Nasim Zaidi underlined the contribution of all political parties and stated that the commission has evolved systemic improvements and progressive measures aimed at improving the electoral processes and systems in cooperation with all political parties.
The CEC referred to the queries raised by some political parties about the incidents of alleged EVM manipulation at Bhind and Dholpur during the recently concluded by-elections. He reiterated that some parties were, unfortunately, creating baseless perceptions about these incidents and there was no case of biased vote results.
The commission highlighted the wide range of technical, administrative protocol and procedural safeguards that fortify the EVMs and VVPATs against any sort of manipulation or tampering. He said that the EC was open to receiving hearing suggestions on further improvements in the integrity and credibility of EVMs.
The CEC informed the political representatives that the commission would throw a challenge at the detractors and offer an opportunity to political parties to demonstrate that the EVMs used in the recently concluded Assembly elections had been tampered with or that the EVMs could be compromised even under the laid down technical and administrative safeguards.
The CEC stated that the commission would ensure 100% coverage of VVPATs in all future elections to the Parliament and State Assembly elections. The VVPAT slips in a percentage of EVMs will be determined by the EC and counted. The commission will soon evolve a framework in this regard.
To make the election process more transparent, the commission has made a proposal for electoral reforms on the misuse of money power and bribery during elections. The EC has also made a proposal for amendments in the Income Tax Act and in the RP Act, 1951, for enhancing transparency in the funding of political parties.
Zaidi urged the political parties to ensure their continuous and qualitative participation in all crucial preparatory steps for elections like first-level checking, randomization of EVM, VVPAT or polling personnel, EVM preparation and/or candidate setting, mock polls, EVM sealing etc. The CEC also stressed that continuous involvement was a shared responsibility of all the stakeholders including the political parties.
The CEC conveyed the institution’s neutral stand and equidistance from all political parties. He said it had no favourites, which has enhanced India’s reputation in the eyes of the global community.
Sudeep Jain, Director General of EC, made a detailed presentation on EVMs, explaining its secured design feature, development process, stakeholders’ participation at various levels, and administrative processes making the EVMs secure.
Representatives of the political parties presented their views and suggestions on each of the agenda items.
The commission assured the parties that their concerns and apprehensions had been taken note of and those would be duly considered and addressed through the forthcoming open challenge and further necessary actions. In respect of other electoral reforms, their views and suggestions would be examined and further action would be initiated appropriately, the CEC said.