EC blames heat for tech glitch, Oppn demands re-poll
The bypolls in communally sensitive Lok Sabha constituency of Kairana in western Uttar Pradesh and Bhandara-Gondiya in Maharashtra on Sunday were marred by reports of faulty electronic voting machines (EVMs) and voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) machines in hundreds. Faced with a deluge of complaints by political parties, the Election Commission (EC) finally responded. It said no abnormality was witnessed in EVMs at all, while there was malfunctioning in VVPATs.
"Factors responsible may include first time use by the polling staff whereas they have developed expertise in managing EVMs, extreme heat, placement of VVPAT under direct sunlight and mishandling during use could be the reasons. The EC conducts root cause analyses in such cases to improve for future," the EC said. It also said that all people who are in queue at 6 pm would be allowed to cast their vote irrespective of the time.
A statement by Uttar Pradesh chef electoral officer (CEO) said that polling ended peacefully at 6 pm. NCP leader Praful Patel who appealed to the EC for re-poll in 400 of the total 2,200 booths in Bhandara-Gondiya bypoll said the EC's clarification that malfunctioning was due to "severe heat conditions" was unacceptable and asked the EC to count the VVPAT slips.
Patel also questioned why VVPAT machines from Surat in Gujarat were used in the bypoll when similar machines were available in Maharashtra. "What is the reason behind bringing EVMs from Surat in Gujarat?
We have expressed our doubts to the Election Commission in a written representation demanding re-poll in 25 per cent of the total booths," he said.
Complaining that VVPATs, which eject slips to confirm the voter's choice were also not functioning in many booths, Patel asked, "As and when re-polling takes place, will we be able to count every slip?"
In Bhandra-Gondiyaa, the BJP and NCP are pitted against each other. The by poll was necessitated following the resignation of BJP MP Nana Patole who returned to Congress. Joining hands with Congress, the NCP has fielded Patel's close confidant and former BJP legislator Madhukar Kukde against BJP candidate Hemant Patle.
A delegation comprising SP leader Ram Gopal Yadav, RLD chief Chowdhary Ajit Singh and Congress leader RPN Singh met the EC to lodge a complaint of EVM malfunctioning in Kairana and Noorpur.
In a joint complaint, the SP and RLD alleged that 160 EVM machines in Kairana and 113 in Noorpur malfunctioned in areas that traditionally have concentration of SP and RLD voters. In Kairana, late BJP MP Hukum Singh's daughter Mriganka Singh is pitted against RLD candidate Tabassum Hasan supported by the Congress, Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.
"Never ever the EVMs have malfunctioned on such a large scale in elections. Earlier the faulty EVMs were replaced within 15 minutes but this time the polling officials are deliberately not replacing such machines. Most of the EVMs that have malfunctioned are in polling booths where voters of SP and RLD are in a majority," said the letter seeking re-poll.
RPN Singh of Congress said they have asked EC to conduct re-poll on booths where EVMs could be replaced more than one-and-a-half hours. "However, as and when a report from RO/DEO/CEO regarding long interruption of polling is received, the Commission takes a decision on those matters on case to case basis," the EC said. It also clarified that polling has not been cancelled in any polling station of Bhandara-Gondiya parliamentary constituency, as being reported.