Skip to main content

2019 polls: ECIL seeks disclosure of information on EVM, VVPAT from BEL, EC

BEL unit, Bengaluru
By Venkatesh Nayak*
Readers may remember reading my despatch from September 2019 in which I had explained how Bharat Electronics Ltd. (BEL) did a volte face under The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) about supplying information relating to Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Voter Verified Paper Trail Units (VVPATs) deployed during the 2019 General Elections to the Lok Sabha.
After demanding copying charges of Rs. 1,434, the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) returned the money claiming that BEL did not hold some of the information and that disclosing names of Engineers deputed to provide technical support for these machines at the constituency-level, would endanger their lives. The CPIO also refused access to operational manuals relating to these machines. The CPIO of Electronics Corporation Ltd. (ECIL) which also supplied EVMs and VVPATs for use during the same elections had also denied information sought in an identical RTI application.
Now in a welcome turnaround, ECIL’s First Appellate Authority (FAA) has upheld my first appeal and directed its CPIO to provide access all information which he had denied earlier.
Meanwhile BEL’s FAA directed the CPIO to transfer the queries relating to the number of EVMs and VVPATs deployed during the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections to the Election Commission of India (ECI) but upheld his decision to reject information about Engineers and operational manuals used.
After being rejected by BEL and ECIL, I had submitted an identical RTI application to ECI’s CPIO. He did not bother to send a reply for more than 40 days. Now I have filed a first appeal and am waiting for the FAA’s decision in this case. ECI’s CPIO is also required to reply to similar queries transferred to him by BEL’s CPIO.

A tale of three RTI Interventions

After closely scrutinising some of the election-related information and statistics that ECI published, on 17th June, 2019, I decided to file two identical RTI applications seeking the following information from BEL and ECIL which neither they nor the ECI have placed in the public domain:
“I would like to obtain the following information pertaining to the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), Voter Verified Paper Audit Trails (VVPATs) and Symbol Loading Units (SLUs) supplied by your company for use during the recently concluded General Elections to the Lok Sabha, under the RTI Act:
1) The maximum number of votes recordable on each EVM supplied for use in the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections,
2) The maximum number of votes printable on each VVPAT Machine supplied for use in the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections,
3) The district-wise number of Control Units of EVMs transported across India for use in the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections,
4) The district-wise number of Ballot Units of EVMs transported across India for use in the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections,
5) The district-wise number of VVPATs transported across India for use in the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections,
6) The district-wise number of thermal paper rolls used in VVPATs transported across India for use in the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections,
7) A clear photocopy of the List of Engineers with name and designation, deputed for carrying out tasks relating to the preparation of EVMs and VVPATs that was sent to every District Election Officer in India for the purpose of the 219 Lok Sabha Elections,
8) A clear photocopy of the List of Senior Level Engineers with name and designation, deputed for supervision and coordination during the preparation of EVMs and VVPATs that was sent to every District Election Officer in India for the purpose of the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections,
9) The total number of SLUs used by your Team(s) of Engineers during the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections,
10) A clear photocopy of the official document handed over to every District Election Officer during the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections containing details of every SLU allocated to your team(s) of Engineers,
11) A clear photocopy of the User Manual prepared by your company, pertaining to the VVPAT machines used during the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections, if any,
12) A clear photocopy of the User Manual prepared by your company, pertaining to the SLUs used during the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections, if any,
13) A clear photocopy of the application filed with the Office of the Patent Controller for securing a patent on VVPAT, if any, along with the postal address of such office, and
14) A clear photocopy of the application filed with the Office of the Patent Controller for securing a patent on SLU, if any, along with the postal address of such office.”
Electronic moving machines in ECIL unit, Hyderabad

ECIL CPIO’s RTI reply:

ECIL’s CPIO did not bother to send me a signed reply. Instead he uploaded some text on the RTI Online Facility without a signature replying as follows:
1) RTI Queries 3, 4, 5 & 6: ECIL’s CPIO claimed that information about EVMs and VVPATs despatched to the Lok Sabha constituencies and the number of thermal paper rolls used for printing the ballots is not readily available and they will be sent as soon as they are received.
2) RTI Queries 7 & 8: The CPIO denied access to the list of Engineers who were stationed in the constituencies to do prepare the EVMs and VVPATs for polling and their superiors who supervised the whole exercise claiming that it was personal information exempt under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act.
3) RTI Queries 10 & 12: The CPIO rejected access to the User Manual of the Symbol Loading Units and the official document related to them, handed over to the district administration after the candidate information is loaded on the EVMs and VVPATs. The CPIO says that it is classified information and attracts Section 8(1)(a) and 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act. Section 8(1)(a) exempts information which will prejudicially affect security and strategic interests of the State. Click HERE for the ECIL-related RTI application and reply.

First appeal sent to ECIL and the FAA’s order

Aggrieved by the ECIL CPIO’s unsigned reply, I submitted a first appeal with the FAA in September, 2019 arguing as follows:
1) ECIL’s CPIO had committed an procedural error by not sending a signed reply;
2) As more than three months had passed since the completion of the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections, information relating to RTI Queries 3-6, that is, constituency-wise deployment of EVMs, VVPATs and thermal paper rolls used in VVPATs should now be available for disclosure;
3) The List of Engineers deployed by ECIL at the constituency-level cannot be treated as personal information whose disclosure would violate their privacy because they were performing public duties;
4) The VVPAT and Symbol Loading Unit User Manuals and VVPAT patent application are also information that must be in the public domain and that the CPIO had not issued a speaking order justifying how the exemptions were attracted.
ECIL’s FAA examined the issues raised in the appeal and directed the CPIO to collect all the information and supply it under the RTI Act. However, the FAA has not specified a time limit for compliance. Click HERE for the 1st appeal and ECIL FAA’s order.

First appeal sent to BEL and the FAA’s order

Aggrieved by the BEL CPIO’s decision to reject access to the information sought in a similar RTI application, despite demanding additional fees initially, I had submitted a first appeal with the FAA in September, 2019 arguing as follows:
1) It is difficult to understand as to why the CPIO who initially charged additional fees calculating the exact number of page for every RTI query, later on claimed that he did not hold the information about the constituency-wise deployment of the EVMs and VVPATs;
2) It is not clear as to how the disclosure of details of Engineers deputed would endanger their lives; and
3) The CPIOs’ revised reply denying access to most of the information which he was prepared to disclose initially indicated that he was under pressure from some internal or external agency to change his stance.
BEL’s FAA upheld the CPIO’s refusal to supply information relating to the Engineers deployed, the operating manuals relating to VVPATs and SLUs and the application submitted for claiming a patent on the VVPATs. However, she directed the CPIO to transfer the first part of the RTI application to the ECI to answer queries relating to the constituency-wise details of deployment of EVMs, VVPATs and thermal paper rolls used in VVPATs.
Click HERE for the 1st appeal and BEL FAA’s order.

ECI’s treatment of the RTI application for similar information

As both BEL and ECIL had initially rejected my request for information about EVMs and VVPATs deployed during the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections and the list of Engineers deputed to render technical support, I submitted an RTI application with the ECI seeking similar information. ECI’s CPIO did not bother to send a reply for more than 40 days. So I have filed a first appeal. Now ECI has to make a decision not only on this first appeal but also make a decision on the RTI application transferred to it by BEL, in accordance with the FAA’s orders.
Click HERE for the RTI application and the first appeal submitted to ECI.

Lack of uniformity of treatment of similar RTIs

Even after 15 years, the implementation of the RTI Act in many public authorities is not predictable. Identical RTI applications yield diverse responses. This is a clear indicator of the failure of the system to make the transformation from secrecy to transparency as envisaged in the preamble of the RTI Act. The political leadership which only pays lip sympathy to the democratic values of transparency and accountability, the lack of seriousness and commitment from the bureaucracy to making this transformation and the clearly demonstrable weaknesses of the oversight mechanisms such as the FAAs and Information Commissions are to blame for this state of affairs.
However, the ECIL FAA’s order provides the proverbial silver lining to the dark clouds of poor implementation. The FAA appears to have recognised the imperative of transparency in all matters relating to elections (except voters’ choices) and directed the CPIO to disclose all information. As there is no time limit in his order, I will wait for a month before I explore the need for approaching the Central Information Commission (CIC). As for the BEL, I will challenge the FAA’s order upholding rejection of a part of the RTI application, before the CIC. Meanwhile, the wait for ECI’s response to my first appeal and the RTI application transferred from BEL continues.

*Programme Head, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi

Comments

TRENDING

CAG’s audit report creates a case for dismantling of UIDAI, scrapping Aadhaar

By Gopal Krishna  The total estimated budget of the biometric UID/Aadhaar number project and its cost: benefit analysis has not been disclosed till date. Unless the total estimated budget of the project is revealed, all claims of benefits are suspect and untrustworthy. How can one know about total savings unless the total cost is disclosed? Can limited audit of continuing expenditure of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), an instrumentality of Union of India be deemed a substitute for total estimated budget of the biometric UID/Aadhaar number project of UIDAI? It has been admitted by CAG that the audit of functioning of the UIDAI is partial because of non-transparency. The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India arising from performance audit of functioning of the UIDAI for the period from 2014-15 to 2018-19 is incomplete because it is based on statistical information “to the extent as furnished by UIDAI” upto March 2021. There is also a need to compa

Women for Water: WICCI resource council for empowering women entrepreneurs, leaders

By Mansee Bal Bhargava*  The Water Resources Council of the Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry is formed for 2022-24. A National Business Chamber for Women, the Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry ( WICCI ) is a premier association empowering women entrepreneurs and leaders in all walks of life through advocacy, pro-active representations to government, implementing projects for women via funds allocated by various government agencies and corporates, plus bringing awareness on all issues that concern women. WICCI boosts and builds women’s entrepreneurship and businesses through greater engagement with government, institutions, global trade and networks. WICCI enables fundamental changes in governmental policies, laws, incentives and sanctions through proper channel, with a view to robustly encourage and empower women in business, industry and commerce across all sectors. WICCI is supported by the massive global networks of ALL Ladies League (ALL), Women Eco

75 yrs of water in India: whither decentralised governance to sustain the precious resource?

By Shubhangi Rai, Megha Gupta, Fawzia Tarannum, Mansee Bal Bhargava Looking into the last century, water resources management have come a long way from the living with water in the villages to the nimbyism and capitalism in the cities to coming full cycle with room for water in the villages. With the climate change induced water crisis, the focus on conservation and management of water resources if furthered in both national and local agenda. The Water management 2021 report by NITI Aayog acknowledges that water and sustainability are of immense importance for the sustenance of life on earth. Water is intricately linked to the health, food security and livelihood. With business as usual, India’s water availability will only be enough to meet 50% of its total demand and 40% of the population in India will have no access to drinking water and sanitation by 2030 . Its Composite Water Management Index 2021 states that ‘India is suffering from the worst water crisis in its history and mil

Grassroot innovations in water management: Policy challenges amidst climate change

By Shubhangi Rai[1], Megha Gupta[2], Mansee Bal Bhargava[3] India despite of having a vast traditional water management history continue to struggle with water crisis from disasters like floods and droughts but more with social distress leading to asymmetric access to water goods and services. The rising water crisis in a country that is abundant in water resources and wisdom is worth questioning and resolving. The knowledge that was passed on by our ancestors who used a diverse range of structures that helped harvest rainwater locally besides replenish and recharge the groundwater along the way. Formal and informal rules were locally crafted by the community on who to use the water, how much to use, when to use, how to penalise for misuse, how to resolve conflicts and many more. As a nation, we need to revive our dying wisdom of the traditional water management systems and as water commons, enable the governing mechanisms towards sustainability. In the session on ‘ Grassroot Innovatio

Need to destroy dowry, annihilate greed and toxic patriarchy in India

By IMPRI Team Talking about an evil ever-persistent in our society and highlighting the presence of toxic patriarchy, #IMPRI Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) , IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi organized a panel discussion on Destroy Dowry: Annihilation of Greed and Toxic Patriarchy in India under the series The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps on May 4, 2022. The chair for the event was Prof Vibhuti Patel, Former Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai and a Visiting Professor, IMPRI. The distinguished panel included – Asha Kulkarni, General Secretary at Anti Dowry Movement, Mumbai ; Kamal Thakar, Sahiyar Stree Sangathan ; Adv Celin Thomas, Advocate at Celin Thomas and Associates, Bengaluru; Shalini Mathur, Honorary Secretary, Suraksha Dahej Maang Virodhi Sanstha Tatha Parivar Paraamarsh Kendra, Lucknow and Secretary, Nav Kalyani Foundation, Gender Resource and Training Centre; and Dr Bharti Sharma, Honorary Secretary, Shakti Shalini

Impact of climate change on Gujarat pastoralists' traditional livelihood

By Varsha Bhagat-Ganguly, Karen Pinerio* We are sharing a study[1] based learning on climate resilience and adaptation strategies of pastoralists of Kachchh district, Gujarat. There are two objectives of the study: (i) to examine the impact of climate on traditional livelihood of pastoralists of Gujarat state; and (ii) to explore and document the adaptation strategies of pastoralists in mitigating climate adversities, with a focus on the role of women in it. In order to meet these objectives, the research inquiries focused on how pastoralists perceive climate change, how climate change has impacted their traditional livelihood, i.e., pastoralism in drylands (Krätli 2015), and how these pastoral families have evolved adaptation strategies that address climate change (CC)/ variabilities, i.e., traditional livelihood of pastoralists of Kachchh district, Gujarat state. Pastoralism is more than 5,000 years old land-use strategy in India; it is practised by nomadic (their entire livelihood r

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: Implications for India and emerging geopolitics

By IMPRI Team In the backdrop of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, #IMPRI Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS) , IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi hosted a panel discussion on Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine: Implications for India and Emerging Geopolitics. The event was chaired by Ambassador Anil Trigunayat (IFS Retd.), Former Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Libya, and Malta; Former Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of India, Moscow. The panelists of the event were Prof Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu, Clinical Professor, Center for Global Affairs, New York University; H.E. Freddy Svane, Ambassador, Royal Danish Embassy, New Delhi; Maj. Gen. (Dr) P. K. Chakravorty, Strategic Thinker on Security Issues; and T. K. Arun, Senior Journalist, and Columnist. Ambassador Anil Trigunayat commenced the discussion by stating the fact that wars are evil. He opines that no war has ever brought peace and prosperity to any country and

Making Indian cities disaster, climate resilient: Towards actionable urban planning

By IMPRI Team  Three-Day Online Certificate Training Programme on “Making Indian Cities Disaster and Climate Change Resilient: Towards Responsive and Actionable Urban Planning, Policy and Development”: Day 1 A three day Online Certificate Training Programme on the theme “Making Indian Cities Disaster and Climate Change Resilient: Towards Responsive and Actionable Urban Planning, Policy and Development”, a joint initiative of the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) , Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, was held at the Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi. Inaugurating the session Ms. Karnika Arun, Researcher at IMPRI, welcomed the speakers and participants to the program with an introduction to the eminent panellists. Day 1 of the program included Prof Anil K Gupta, Head ECDRM, NIDM, New Delhi and Mr Tikender Singh Panwar, Former Deputy Mayor, Shimla; Visiting Senior Fellow, IMPRI as conveners, an

Gender gap: Women face disproportionate barriers in accessing finance

By IMPRI Team Women worldwide disproportionately face barriers to financial access that prevents them from participating in the economy and improving their lives. Providing access to finance for women is crucial for financial inclusion and, consequently, inclusive growth. To deliberate and encourage dialogue and discussion for growth, the Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) of IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, organized a web policy talk by Mr S. S. Bhat, Chief Executive Officer Friends of Women’s World Banking India, Ahmedabad on ‘Access to Finance for Women’ as a part of its series The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps. The session was started by the moderator, Chavi Jain, by introducing the speaker and the discussants and inviting Prof. Vibhuti Patel to start the deliberation. Importance of access to finance for women Prof. Vibhuti Patel, Visiting Professor, IMPRI, New Delhi; Former Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, began by expre

Hindutva patriotism: State-sponsored effort to construct religion-based national identity

By Harasankar Adhikari Rabindranath Tagore (1908) said, "Patriotism can’t be our final spiritual shelter. "I will not buy glass for a diamond, and I will never let patriotism triumph over humanity as long as I live." Tagore’s view stands in sharp contrast to what we are witnessing today, when patriotism means religious differences between the majority (Hindu) and minority (Muslim). Our secular nation is gradually disobeying its secular nature and it is being patronised by political leaders and their narrow politics. India’s unique character of ‘unity in diversity’ is trying to be saffronised. Hindu extremism (Hindutvavadis) generates a culture of religious intolerance. Democratic India is based upon the ideology of equality of all. This nation is based upon different foundations than most of those which went before it. Its legitimacy lies in its being able to satisfy its various component communities that their interests will be safeguarded by the Indian state