The Election Commission of India (ECI) had mandated real-time GPS tracking of all vehicles transporting Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) during the Lok Sabha Elections.
On 10 March, at a press conference to announce the dates for Lok Sabha Elections 2019, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora had specified:
“New fresh SOPs (standard operating procedure) have been issued for making the last mile transportation of even the reserve EVMs very, very stringent and rigid including the monitoring by GPS etc.”Sunil Arora, Chief Election Commissioner
However, highly placed sources have now confirmed to The Quint that the installation of GPS in vehicles that carried EVMs/VVPATs and their 24*7 monitoring was never implemented during the Lok Sabha elections.
On 22 May, a day before the election results were declared, the Election Commission in response to an RTI query had said it has no information in “any material form” related to the GPS data and movement of these vehicles.
While the ambiguous RTI reply and multiple queries by The Quint elicited neither a confirmation nor a denial of the plan’s implementation, it can now be confirmed that the plan never took off.
This failure is concerning, given that in the days preceding vote-counting on 23 May a number of reports regarding the movement and storage of EVMs had emerged. These included reports of six EVMs being found in a hotel room in Bihar on 7 May.
'Plan In the Pipeline’
According to sources, even though the GPS tracking was not implemented, it is still part of the Election Commission’s plans. “The plan is in the pipeline and it is likely to be implemented in future elections,” the official said.
It is, however, not clear if the plan will be in place by the time Haryana and Maharashtra go to polls in October and Jharkhand in December.
EC Gave Detailed Orders Including 24*7 Monitoring of EVMs
The non-implementation of the plan assumes greater significance in the light of the detailed instructions that the Commission had given to Chief Electoral Officers (CEO) of all the states and Union territories.
At least two documents circulated by the ECI, dated 5 and 7 February, among CEOs contained robust and detailed instructions including “real-time tracking and monitoring of the movement of EVMs and VVPATs through the GPS-enabled/mobile app.” This includes EVMs for polling as well as reserve EVMs.
Some of the specific instructions about monitoring GPS-fitted vehicles include:
- Real-time tracking and monitoring of the movement of EVMs and VVPATS through GPS-enabled mobile app. Sources have told The Quint that the app is most likely to be developed and will be installed in the smartphones of drivers ferrying the EVMs.
- Setting up of a 24*7 EVM Control Room to track the movement of vehicles as well as appointing an official in each vehicle to coordinate with officers.
- Adequate personnel to be deployed in the EVM Control Room “on a shift basis for round-the-clock monitoring of EVMs/VVPAT in the states, UT concerned.”
- One official to be appointed with each vehicle that carries EVMs/VVPATs and their mobile number to be shared with officers of all the states through which the vehicles are scheduled to pass.
Global Positioning System is a satellite navigation system used to determine the ground position of an object. Cab-hailing apps like Uber and Ola, food delivery apps like Swiggy and maps in our smartphones like Google Maps all leverage GPS technology to determine the position of an individual or vehicle.
A number of incidents were reported from Madhya Pradesh about EVM mishandling. The state voted on 28 November. Among the major controversies were incidents like:
- EVMs allegedly reached the collection centre in Sagar a full 48-hours after polling ended. The EVMs had arrived from Khurai constituency in a school bus without a number plate.
- In a separate incident, a viral video showed a poll officer with two EVMs in a hotel room in MP’s Shajapur district on the eve of polling.
The installation of a GPS device can, therefore, reign in such incidents because the precise movement, including starting point and destination, of EVM-ferrying vehicles can be be tracked in real-time.