Centre nudged EC on proposal to buy VVPATs from private bodies, poll body rejected proposal, RTI reveals

The central government had on three occasions asked the Election Commission of India (EC) to buy voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) machines from private parties, a proposal that the apex poll body rejected on grounds that involving private players in the electoral process could hurt its credibility, a report by The Indian Express citing official records obtained through RTI have revealed. As per the report, between July and September 2016, the Union law Ministry sent three letters to the EC asking for its views on the proposal to buy VVPAT machines from private manufacturers. However, the poll body had rejected the suggestion saying that any such move would only raise questions on its credibility, the report says. The Election Commission, then headed by Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi, had repiled on September 19, 2016, saying .private manufacturers cannot be given the very sensitive job of manufacturing VVPAT which are integral to EVMs, the report says. Apart from the credibility issue, the panel was also in doubts whether a private player would take unconditional responsibility to service the VVPAT machines for 15 years, like BEL and EClL currently do. This concern was among some others flagged by the Election Commissions Technical Expert Committee (TEC). TEC was also unsure how a private manufacturer would incorporate security features in its production process to ensure VVPATs are tamper proof. What are VVPATs? VVPAT is the acronym for Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail. These machines are used during polling to verify that the vote given by an electorate actually goes to the candidate for whom he\/she has voted. VVPAT system generally gives instant feedback to the voter and acts as the second line of verification. VVPAT units produce a printout of the vote cast using an Electronic Voting Machine or EVM, which can be shown to the voter to dispel any doubts. This printout is then deposited in a box and can be used to resolve any dispute regarding the election. Where are VVPATs produced in India? VVPATs along with Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) are being produced by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) in Bengaluru and Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) in Hyderabad. These two are public sector units. Political significance of VVPATs Supreme Court in 2013 had ordered the poll panel to introduce VVPATs in a phased manner, and the Commission has committed to having it in place by the time of the 2019 general elections. After BJPs victories in a host of state assemblies, the opposition had cast aspersions over EVMs and often demanded installation of VVPATs. VVPATs are particularly handy at a time when allegations of Electronic Voting Machines So far, VVPATs have been used at every polling station in last years Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat Assembly elections. The EC has already placed orders for close to 14 lakh VVPAT units with ECIL and BEL to cover all polling stations during the conduct of 2019 Lok Sabha elections and simultaneous polls in five states.