Pvt Consultants Involved in EVM-VVPAT Checks – Why Did EC Hide It?
The Election Commission of India (EC) has always maintained that no private company or outsourcing in any form is involved in the election process. But The Quint’s investigation reveals that this is not true.
An RTI reply in The Quint’s possession from 2017 shows that the Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) – a Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) that manufactures Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPATs) – has revealed that the manufacturers engaged engineers as “consultants” from a Mumbai-based private company called M/s T&M Services Consulting Private Limited.
The Quint has learnt that many of these private engineers were deployed throughout the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Their jobs were extremely sensitive, including checking and maintaining EVMs and VVPATs, starting from First Level Checking (FLC) till the end of counting.
When The Quint wrote to the EC last week asking whether ECIL had engaged a private company and private consultants to check and EVMs and VVPATs for the elections, the EC said it had not.
(BEL is Bharat Electronics Limited, another PSU engaged by the government that manufactures EVMs and VVPATs)
Clearly, the EC is hiding facts and misleading the public. But why?
The Mystery ‘Consultant’ Firm
The RTI was filed in the context of the Uttarakhand Assembly election in 2017 by a lawyer named Amit Ahluwalia.
Here is the question he asked ECIL under RTI and the reply he received at that time:
“Inform whether there is any agency which provide/supply Consultants to ECIL. If yes, then kindly provide information thereof along with criterion for enlistment as suppliers of consultants.” (sic)
“ECIL is engaging the skilled/semi skilled “Consultants”. Yes. The only one authorised manpower supply agency are M/s T&M Services Consulting Private Limited (with Mumbai address).” (sic)
Based on this RTI revelation, The Quint spoke to a few ‘consultant’ engineers who had been engaged during the 2017 Uttarakhand Assembly elections. Some of them confirmed that they had also been deputed to handle EVMs and VVPATs during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and several other Assembly elections, including Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan in 2018.
Free & Fair Elections Compromised?
The Quint spoke to former chief election commissioner SY Quraishi on this matter. He informed us that in 2017, a few months after the Uttarakhand Assembly elections, allegations were made that ECIL had outsourced the task of EVM and VVPAT checking. But he was told by the EC that only in-house engineers had been used during the elections.
EC even handed over its new guidelines to Quraishi as assurance, which he duly tweeted about. The guidelines say, “Only engineers of BEL/ECIL, who are on their payroll, are deployed for FLC (First Level Checking).”
As per ECIL’s RTI reply, T&M Services Consulting Pvt Ltd was supplying engineers to ECIL in 2017 – then why did the EC mislead a former chief election commissioner?
“Someone had asked me a question about the reports of FLC of EVMs being outsourced by EC. On this, the Election Commission officer concerned called me and assured me that there’s no outsourcing. He said that all machines are checked only by the in-house engineers of BEL/ECIL and they too, are randomised.”SY Quraishi, former CEC, to The Quint
Quraishi, in his book An Undocumented Wonder: The Making of the Great Indian Election, has written about the importance of not utilising private entities in the elections.
Government staff are deployed because “they would be subject to the control and discipline of the government at all times,” he writes. ”Employees from the private sector were deliberately kept out of election duties as no administrative control could be exercised over them once the elections were over.”
Now, it may well be that ECIL doesn’t have enough manpower to supply engineers during the elections. Around 2,200 engineers in total were deputed in the Lok Sabha election 2019 from two separate EVM manufacturing companies, ECIL and BEL, say experts. ECIL alone would have to supply over 1,000 engineers.
While ECIL, in an RTI reply, accepts that they did engage private consultants, the Election Commission denies this.
The Quint asks – Why this contradiction? Why not share with the public how the specific firm for this ultra-sensitive task of checking EVMs, was chosen? Was this firm and its engineer ‘consultants’ vetted by the Election Commission?
Private Engineers Used in Uttarakhand Elections... How Did EC Not Know?
Shocking but true, close to 50 private consulting engineers were used to check the EVMs during the Uttarakhand Assembly elections 2017.
But EC claims it does not know. An RTI was filed with the EC in connection with the deployment of ‘consultants’ by ECIL. EC said they have no information.
“Kindly inform whether Election Commission of India is aware of Consultants hired by ECIL for conducting/troubleshooting EVMs during Uttarakhand Assembly Election 2017.”
“I am to inform you that the information sought by you is not available in any material form, hence the information cannot be provided under section 2(f) of RTI Act 2005. Information sought may be available with BEL or ECIL.”
In yet another RTI, it was revealed that the ECIL deputed around 60 engineers in the Uttarakhand Assembly Elections, 2017. Of these, only 8 were ECIL employees. The rest were consultants engaged from the M/s T&M Services Consulting Private Ltd.
ECIL also informed via RTI that both private consultants and ECIL engineers were involved in “First Level Checking” of EVMs, “polling” and “counting” during the Uttarakhand Assembly Election 2017.
Experts and activists who are fighting for transparency in elections and governance were shocked by the RTI revelations.
“The use of private company personnel on short-term contracts in critical election-related work, particularly in EVMs and VVPATs, is a matter of serious concern. The difference in the information given by the EC on the one hand and ECIL on the other hand makes the matter even more complicated.”Jagdeep Chhokar, Member, Association for Democratic Reforms
The RTI reveals the names and mobile phone numbers of a few engineers who worked as ‘consultants' with the ECIL. They informed us that they applied with T&M Services Consulting Private Limited who helped them in getting a contract in ECIL.
“I am a B-tech graduate and worked a senior engineer in ECIL. T&M Services fixed an interview with the ECIL. I was trained about EVMs in the ECIL. I was involved in several Assembly elections and Lok Sabha Elections 2019. My job was to do First Level Checking till the day of counting. I was not involved in the manufacturing of the EVMs and VVPATs, nor were other consultants. My contract with them is over, now I don’t work with ECIL.”Former ECIL Consultant Engineer
He also said that very few regular employees of ECIL are engaged during the elections, most of them are consultants.
The Quint is investigating the names and cellphone numbers of other ‘consultants’ received through RTI. We will share those details in subsequent articles.
Doesn't giving access to a contracted third party make the election process vulnerable to outside influence?
How can the EC not know whether ECIL is engaging a private company or not? In the national interest, in their role as guarantors of free and fair elections, this is information they absolutely should know.
How can the EC also not know that the ECIL is engaging private consultants who are checking EVMs and VVPATs before and during the elections?
The Quint will update this article when we get a response from ECIL and T&M Services Consulting Private Limited.
This is Part 1 of The Quint’s investigative series exposing flaws in how the Election Commission of India is conducting elections in the country.