Video Editor: Mohd Irshad
The Quint filed an RTI with the Election Commission of India, seeking details and copies of the VVPAT or voter verifiable paper audit trail slip count during the Lok Sabha elections 2019. In its reply, the EC refused to share the VVPAT slip count details on grounds of them not being available with the Commission, which means, at the EC Headquarters. The body asked us to file separate RTIs with all State Chief Election Officers for the VVPAT slip count.
In its RTI reply, the EC said:
“Polling Station wise data of Lok Sabha election, 2019 is not available with the Commission. It may be available with CEOs of all States/UTs. You may obtain information from the office of CEOs of the States/UTs by submitting application under RTI Act, 2005 separately. Your application can not be transferred to them as more than one PIOs are involved u/s 6 (3) of RTI Act, 2005.”
After Supreme Court's 2013 order, every EVM in the polling station was linked to a VVPAT machine in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. This was to ensure that voters could see if their vote had indeed gone to the candidate of their choice.
After the counting was over, the EC declared that not a single mismatch was found in the EVM-VVPAT count. This prompted The Quint to file the RTI.
Upon deep diving into the EC’s website to investigate whether the EC’s claim was true or not, we found the EC’s reply to be misleading.
The two ways in which the EC misled us were:
- Circulars issued by the EC say that all Chief Election Officers (CEOs) are to submit their VVPAT data to the Commission within seven days of the counting day
- During the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the circular issued by the EC on 15 April said, “The CEO shall compile the reports for the entire State/UT and submit a consolidated summarised report to the Commission within seven days from the end of counting process.”
CEOs to Submit VVPAT Slip Verification & VVPAT Slip Count: EC Circular
Just two days before the counting day, 21 May, the EC issued another circular saying that the CEOs of all States/UTs must not only submit a detailed report on “VVPAT slip verification’ (VVPAT slips verified against the EVM count), but will also submit the VVPAT slip count to the Commission” immediately.
Moreover, the EC in its reply said that we should file separate RTIs with State CEOs for VVPAT count, whereas a Central Information Commission (CIC) judgment dated 16 June 2011 states that it is the responsibility of the Public Information Officer or PIO to transfer it to other PIOs for information, irrespective of whether 50 or 100 PIOs are involved.
Which begs the question: Why is the EC hiding this data? The EVM counts from the elections are already public – is the EC trying to hide a mismatch between the EVM and VVPAT counts?
We have already filed the First Appeal on EC’s reply and will continue to follow it up to the CIC. And if required, we will file a complaint against the PIO with the CIC and ask for him to be penalised for the misleading reply.