EVM | EC Gives Different Answers to a Single RTI Query. Surprised?

EVM | Multiple RTI answers from the Election Commission to the same RTI query, raises doubt in the minds of voters.

Updated
India
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Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

One RTI question but multiple answers. Surprised? Yes, even we are. The Quint sent a Right To Information query to Delhi’s Chief Electoral Officer or CEO in January 2020 asking a simple question,

“Kindly allow the inspection of VVPAT slips used in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in all seven constituencies” in Delhi.

But we got three different RTI replies from five of Delhi’s District Election Officers or DEOs -

The First reply said - The VVPAT slips have been disposed off. Meaning, destroyed. So no question of looking at them.

The Second reply said - The VVPAT slips used in the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections are lying sealed at a District Warehouse. But no clarity on whether we can inspect them or not.

And the Third reply was - At present, the inspection of VVPAT slips used in the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections cannot be allowed, as the matter is sub-judice.

Now before we figure why we got 3 different replies to the same question and what the truth may be, lets go back to the first reply – which we got on 28 January 2020, from Delhi’s East District Election Officer – saying -

“The VVPAT slips have been disposed off, as instructed by the Election Commission in a letter dated 23 September 2019, that ordered all States and Union Territories to dispose off VVPAT paper slips by using paper shredding machines.”

This RTI reply also shared a letter issued by Delhi’s Chief Electoral Officer instructing all seven Parliamentary Constituencies to follow the EC’s orders and destroy used VVPAT slips.

Based on this, on 8th February 2020, The Quint published an article asking “Why did the EC destroy VVPAT slips from the 2019 Lok Sabha Polls in such a hurry?

We highlighted Rule 94 (b) of the Conduct of Election Rules, which says -

“…used VVPAT slips in any election…shall be retained for one year and shall thereafter be destroyed”. But the RTI reply showed that the used VVPAT slips from the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections had been destroyed within four months.

Do note that printed or used VVPAT slips are crucial evidence in trying to detect possible tampering or manipulation of the voting process.

Considering the seriousness of the issue, an application was filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) in the Supreme Court in February 2020 based on The Quint’s article, making two requests -

First - direct the EC not to destroy or dispose off VVPAT paper slips generated in any election in the last one year, and to retain them, as per the rules, for at least one year.

And second - direct the EC to retain all other documents pertaining to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

That matter is still pending in the Supreme Court.

But like I said at the start, we actually got multiple replies to our RTI query asking to inspect VVPAT slips. DEOs from 5 out of Delhi’s 7 parliamentary constituencies replied.

Of the 5 replies, two said that the used VVPAT slips had been destroyed, two said they were lying in warehouses, and one said they can’t share the information.

But we also have the letters written by the EC and the Delhi CEO clearly saying that VVPAT slips should be destroyed which means that at least two Delhi DEOs did not comply with the EC’s order.

“These different actions taken by various DEOs indicates a lack of consistency in parts of the electoral process. Such inconsistencies raise doubts in the minds of voters about the integrity of the electoral process.”
Jagdeep Chhokar, founder of the Association for Democratic Reforms

So, here are the questions we would like to ask the Election Commission:

  • Used VVPAT slips are crucial to our Elections – why is there no consistency on how they are dealt with?
  • Why are some Election officials storing them, while some are destroying them? Isn’t this a worry for the Election Commission?
  • Does the Election Commission and Delhi’s Chief Election Officer know that some DEOs did not comply with their orders to destroy VVPAT slips?
  • Why did some of Delhi’s DEOs not comply with the EC’s order? Does this not reflect poorly on the functioning and integrity of our election process?
  • Our RTI queries focused only on Delhi’s Parliamentary Constituencies. But did other States and Union Territories comply with the EC’s order? Does the EC know?

And also, why did the Election Commission order the destruction of used VVPAT slips less than 4 months after the 2019 General Elections when that is clearly against the law?

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