Government clears VVPAT funds, opposition says matter not over yet

New Delhi: With the Union Cabinet on Wednesday approving funds for the Election Commission to buy VVPAT machines, the poll panel said it would ensure paper trail with every electronic voting machine (EVM) for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. However, the opposition said the matter was not closed yet.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said after the Cabinet meeting that the government had approved the Election Commission's (EC) demand of Rs 3,173.47 crore for procuring 16.15 lakh Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) units.

The amount, he said, would be given over two years from budgetary allocations.

The opposition said the government's decision came after pressure from the opposition and that the matter was not closed with this announcement as the real issue was the trust deficit vis-a-vis the poll process.

Talking to reporters, Jaitley said: "If we place the order in April, the whole supply would come by September 2018... Hence, VVPAT machines would be available in all polling booths in the subsequent elections."

He said the government would immediately provide Rs 1,600 crore to the poll panel and the rest in the next financial year.

"There has been a controversy over EVMs after the latest assembly poll results. The Prime Minister said it was an unnecessary controversy... It has no importance. EVMs have been tried and tested over the years."

Jaitley said the move would bring more transparency in the voting process. "Voters have a right to know if their votes are correctly registered or not."

The VVPAT units will be manufactured by the Bharat Electronics Ltd and the Electronics Corporation of India Ltd, the two public sector companies which also manufacture EVMs.

The Cabinet decision on VVPAT is important in view of allegations by several parties, including the Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party and the Aam Aadmi Party that EVMs can be tampered with.

The Election Commission has, however, refuted the charges.

The poll panel, which wrote at least a dozen letters to the government seeking Rs 3,100 crore for procuring VVPAT units, expressed satisfaction at the decision.

"In compliance of Supreme Court order and as per the recommendation of the Election Commission of India, the government has approved Rs 3,173.47 crore for the procurement of 16,15,000 VVPATs.

"With this the Commission will ensure total compliance of the orders of Supreme Court and its commitment to use VVPATs with every EVM at all polling stations in the country in General Elections 2019," the EC said in a statement on Wednesday.

"These VVPATs will be manufactured by BEL (Bharat Electronics Ltd) and ECIL (Electronics Corporation of India Ltd) only as per the design approved by the Commission based on recommendation of the Technical Experts Committee on EVMs constituted by the Commission and comprising eminent technical professors from IITs," the EC said.

The poll panel added that it would "closely monitor the production of VVPATs for timely delivery well before 2019 general elections".

Congress leader and former Union Minister Manish Tiwari said that the matter was not closed with the government's decision.

"The real issue is not about EVMs or VVPAT machines, it is about the trust and confidence in the impartiality of poll process. Unless the Election Commission restores that faith and confidence in the democratic process, this matter will not close," Tiwari said.

"The government would not have taken this decision if opposition parties had not mounted pressure on it or had not moved the Supreme Court over the issue," he added.