The Parliamentary Committee on Government Assurances has pulled up the Union government for failing to fulfil its assurance given on the floor of the House in 2019 about providing information on whether there were any discrepancies between the electronic voting machines and the voter verifiable paper audit trail in the Lok Sabha elections held that year.
The Committee on Government Assurances, in its 85th report on the Review of Pending Assurances Pertaining to the Ministry of Law and Justice, expressed its disappointment about the government having failed to provide Parliament with the information and said it was deeply concerned to note that the inputs from the Election Commission are still awaited by the ministry.
“...finding discrepancies between electronic voting machines and voter verifiable paper audit trail is a crucial aspect of ensuring the integrity and transparency of the electoral process. The Committee feels that the need for identifying such issues is all the more necessary to ensure security and reliability of the voting process. EVMs and VVPATs are designed to provide an accurate reflection of voter's choice. Detecting discrepancies helps ensure compliance with legal requirements. Election authorities, government agencies and experts in the field should collaborate to establish robust procedures and protocols to address discrepancies effectively,” the committee said.
“The Committee, however, regrets to note that precious little has been done in this direction with the result that the Assurance given by the Government as early as June, 2019 still remains unfulfilled even after a lapse of more than four years although the task involved was simply to collect information from the Election Commission,” it said in the report.
It said it was deeply concerned to note that the requisite information is still awaited from the Election Commission.
The panel pulled up the ministry, saying the very fact that information has not been received explains the lack of concerted and coordinated approach of the ministry on the issue. The committee said it is not convinced with the manner in which the subject matter has been handled or treated by the ministry due to which the implementation of the assurance given to Parliament has been long overdue.
The Committee felt that there is an urgent necessity for identifying the discrepancies between the EVMs and VVPAT as it helps in maintaining trust in the electoral process by ensuring that votes are being recorded and counted correctly.
It, therefore, has recommended to the ministry to accord utmost priority to the matter, make more serious efforts under a concrete action plan and find ways and means to better coordinate with the Election Commission and to get the requisite information.
The assurance that the committee referred to was given in response to a question dated June 26, 2019 regarding 'Discrepancy in EVM and VVPAT'. The issue raised in the question were whether any discrepancy was found between the EVM and VVPAT machine counts in any of the constituencies in the Lok Sabha elections. In reply, the ministry gave an assurance that the information was being collected and will be laid on the Table of the House.
Giving an update on the efforts made by it to implement the assurance, the ministry, in its status note, furnished in January 2023 stated that the requisite information was sought from the poll panel on March 12, 2020 and subsequent reminders were sent on September 3, 2020, February 19, 2021, October 7, 2021, November 26, 2021 and June 3, 2022. It said the information was still awaited from the EC.
During oral evidence, the secretary, ministry of law and justice, explained the reasons for the delay in implementing the assurance, saying: “This is about discrepancy in EVM and VVPAT. We had called the Election Commission but today they are having discussions with some political parties and they have said that they cannot come today.”
When the committee desired that the ministry should expedite the fulfilment of the assurance, the secretary, legislative department, requested for two weeks time. The committee acceded to the request for grant of extension of time and gave one month extension to the ministry to fulfil the assurance.