Municipal Polls: Court issues notice to ECI for using outdated EVMs

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by Pallavi Sareen

Srinagar

The principal, district and session judge Jammu issued a notice to the Election Commission of India (ECI) on a petition filed by a lawyer seeking cancellation of the recent municipal elections.

A huge rush of people in the queue outside the polling booth in Sumbal area of north Kashmir’s Bandipora district on Wednesday during the second phase of Municipal elections. Kl Image by Bilal Bahadur

The petitioner, advocate Sanjeev Kumar Sareen, has alleged that antiquated electronic voting machines (EVMs) were used during the municipal elections despite clear-cut guidelines from the Supreme Court that only those EVMs should be used which include voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT).

Notices were also issued to Chief Electoral Officer of Jammu and Kashmir, Chief Secretary Jammu and Kashmir and all corporators including Mayor and Deputy Mayor. The court issued the notices objections on the petition to be filed on the date of next hearing, January 8, 2019.

Purnima Shama, Advocate and Deputy Mayor of Jammu Municipal Corporation refused, in writing to accept the summons sent by the Court. The petition was filed on November 13 and admitted by the court on November 28.

The petition demands that the municipal elections held in J&K be declared null and void because of the use of invalidated M1 EVMs. Although the EC has given instructions for the destruction of these M1 EVMs because they are not tamper-proof, they were used in the state municipal elections

Elections to the Municipal bodies of Jammu and Kashmir were held in four phases from October 8, 2018, to 16th October 2018. The results for the same were declared on October 20, 2018.

Earlier, ballot boxes were used for holding urban local body elections in J&K, as mandated by the Jammu and Kashmir Municipal Corporation Act. This Act was amended during the governor’s rule in 2016. According to the new rules, elections were to be held with EVMs instead of ballot boxes. Rules pertaining to the design of the EVMs were also added, making it obligatory to use M3 EVMs or EVMs with a paper trail in the elections.

However, the CEO of J&K used M1 EVMs and breached these new rules. There were several other irregularities in the conduct of the elections, the petitioner has alleged.

The petitioner has said that he gave a representation to the Chief Electoral Officer J&K pleading that they should conduct the elections either through Ballot papers or M3 EVMs (valid EVMs). He even referred to the Supreme Court judgements about the use of EVMs.

The petitioner has said that he gave this representation to all the concerned quarters well before the ULB Elections began in Jammu and Kashmir on October 8th.

Sr Advocate Ved Raj Wazir, Adv Amrit Sarin, Adv Abhishek Wazir besides a battery of lawyers represent the petitioner.

On being asked, Advocate Sanjeev Kumar Sareen said, “We live in a democratic country which is known all over the world for its robust electoral system. Why were discarded and disbanded EVMs used in Jammu and Kashmir in the first place? And if there was no issue with the EVMs, why are the same not being used for the panchayat elections. Why didn’t the governor, who amended the municipal corporation Act, amend the panchayat Act?”

He further said, “The argument that the EVMs which were used for ULB elections were tamper-proof falls flat when one is told that Panchayat Elections are being held with Ballot Boxes. My grievance is the manner in which elections were held. Apart from EVMs there were several other irregularities that I have mentioned in my petition. There was a breach of Model code of conduct, non-videography during scrutiny which is mandatory and no training was provided to Returning Officer and Assistant Returning Officers either.”

“Results from these machines have shaken the confidence of a common man because these EVMs can be hacked. There is no democracy left in India if elections cannot be conducted in a free and fair manner. The only hope now is with the judiciary to give relief and with media to highlight this issue as one of utmost importance,” said Advocate Sanjeev Sareen, the petitioner.

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