Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said on Tuesday "most parties" have reposed their faith in Electronic Voting Machines, but expressed regret that some sections made it part of a "motivated slugfest". He noted that there was a difference between tampering and malfunctioning (of EVMs) and asserted that "not a single case of tampering had been established so far".
The CEC, however, remained non-committal on the demand by various parties for counting of VVPAT slips though he said a vigorous exercise would be launched to create awareness on the VVPATs.
"Most parties reposed their faith in voting through the EVM, though some asked for counting of more VVPAT slips. Some wanted more hands-on demonstrations of the machines to familiarise voters on how to use these machines for voting to instill more confidence," the CEC said.
The former IAS officer observed that EVMs delivered a particular result in 2014. "Subsequently, elections were held in Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Tripura, Mizoram. There have been different results ever since. But why are EVMs made part of a motivated slugfest?" the CEC wondered.
Arora said the group of experts from the Indian Statistical Organisation and National Sample Survey Organisation would submit its report soon on the possibility of counting VVPATs. The CEC, who along with Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa and other top officials of the ECI, reviewed the preparedness for the ensuing elections in Andhra Pradesh, briefed media about their two-day deliberations with the state officials and various political parties.
Arora called the purported "hacking" of EVMs recently the 'circus in London' and said the British Union of Journalists and the Indian Union of Journalists, that were supposed to have organised the event, had dissociated themselves with it.
"An FIR has already been filed against the person who claimed to be a former employee of ECIL but, in fact, was not. So far not even one case of EVM tampering could be proved even in courts," the CEC pointed out. A committee of top experts, including directors of various IITs, was overseeing the functioning of EVMs.
Observing that the coming elections to the Lok Sabha and Andhra Pradesh Assembly were "doubly challenging and a formidable task", the CEC asserted that the ECI was committed to conduct free, fair, peaceful, transparent, ethical and inclusive elections.
"The Commission attaches prime importance to ensuring a conducive environment for peaceful elections in the state. We will have zero tolerance for any instances of gross impropriety and negligence (on part of officials)," he added. "In case of 'proven malafide', the ECI would not hesitate to go further and launch criminal action against the errant personnel," Arora warned.
Referring to many complaints from various political parties on the electoral rolls in the state, he said a team of senior officials from the Commission would visit AP in the next few days to conduct a random audit of electoral rolls. "The state Chief Electoral Officer will look into all complaints and take necessary action," he said.
Arora said the EC has decided to 'deeply study' a scheme of the Andhra Pradesh government under which Rs 10,000 cash is distributed to each member of women's Self Help groups (in three instalments), following complaints of cash inducements to women voters and had sought a report from the state.
"The government claimed it was only a continuation of the 2015 scheme but we want to go deeply into this," he said. On the principal opposition YSR Congress' complaint against state DGP R P Thakur that he was favourably inclined towards the ruling dispensation the CEC said no written complaint has been submitted on the matter so far.
He ruled out 'segregation' of polling booths for 'vulnerable communities', but said adequate security would be provided at needy places. On curbing money power in elections, Arora said special steps would be put in place to monitor this.
"The Principal Director General (Investigations) of the Income Tax Department has come up with ways to track money. Those steps will be taken and they will fructify in the days to come," Arora added. The C-Vigil mobile application used for the first time in Bengaluru during the Karnataka Assembly elections and recently in the five states, would be used in AP as well, he said.
State CEOs have been asked to effectively use other IT applications like Voter Helpline Mobile App, PwD (People with Disabilities) App and Observers App in the ensuing elections across the country, he said. The new Suvidha App, an integrated application to streamline candidate nomination, permissions, counting and results display, would also help resolve complaints, he said.