State has to spend Rs 48 cr on EVMs to appease netas

Political leaders ask EC not to count results of Feb 7 Zilla Parishad and Panchayat elections ahead of Feb 16 civic polls, as it may influence how people vote. This means buying new EVMs, as the 44,250 machines used in local body polls cannot be reused

In a sudden frenzy of acquisition, the government has approved a staggering sum of Rs 47.5 crore for the purchase of new electronic voting machines (EVMs).

Dharmesh Rathod

The urgency of the purchase is indicated by the fact that Rs 5 crore has been extracted from the state's Contingency Fund as a down payment for the machines. If sources are to be believed, the government has not made this sudden, unplanned purchase in anticipation of a greater voter turnout.
Rather, the government has capitulated to mounting pressure put on it by many contesting political outfits, with the demand that counting for the elections to local bodies and municipal bodies scheduled nine days apart take place simultaneously after February 16, so that the results of the former do not influence the voting pattern in the latter.

This means that the 44,250 EVMs used for the local body elections cannot be reused for the civic body elections. The elections to local bodies 27 zilla parishads and 309 panchayat samitis are scheduled for February 7, while polling for the 10 municipal corporations will be held on February 16.
The announcement of the far-flung dates had raised quite an outcry in political circles. Leaders had demanded that the results of the February 7 polls to local bodies only be announced after the voting for the all-important BMC seats were concluded on February 16.

An additional order of 44,250 EVMs have been made by the state government for the local body elections on February 7, so that they don't have to be reconfigured and reused for the BMC polls on February 16

The were wary that the results for February 7, if announced prematurely, could subliminally sway the electorate's collective consciousness, and influence its voting pattern on February 16.

MNS honcho Raj Thackeray was the first to raise a hue and cry on January 3, demanding that the results for the local body elections be deferred to a date simultaneous with the declaration of the civic body poll results, so that the voting pattern would not be influenced, and the balance would not swing in favour of the party that emerged strong in the local body elections. BJP and Shiv Sena joined the chorus a day later, echoing MNS' claim.

Significantly, the state's Election Commission neither rejected nor relented to the demand, with officials confirming that the matter was under active consideration.

The only hurdle was the fact that if the votes are to be counted on the same date, then the EVMs used for polling on February 7 could not be cleared and reused on February 16.

The recent developments at the Commission and Mantralaya now seem to indicate that the vociferous objections raised by the political parties have paid off.

The state government has approved a proposal to sanction Rs 47.5 crore for the purchase of new EVMs, Rs 5 crore of the sum already having been paid to the Electronic Corporation of India (ECI), a Hyderabad-based public sector enterprise which provides EVMs.
The approval came on January 19, a little over a fortnight after the campaign for simultaneous vote-counting began. According to sources from the state government, the financial provision has been made at an advanced stage in the election process, with only a few days to go for polling.
This is unprecedented, as EVMs are usually the first things to be purchased in preparation for elections. The ECI will now be making available 44,250 EVMs for the elections to local bodies, separate from the ones earmarked for the civic polls.

A copy of the order issued by the Rural Development Department (available with MiD DAY) elaborates the process of EVM purchase, confirming that Rs 5 crore has already been drawn from the Contingency Fund. Notably, these funds are earmarked only for expenditure in case of emergencies.

An official involved in the election programme said, on condition of anonymity, "Apart from the additional EVMs, the number of candidates for each seat should not be more than 15. This will facilitate the process of vote-counting on a single day."

Reacting to the matter, Leader of the Opposition in the State Council, Vinod Tawde, said that when he led a delegation comprising Shiv Sena leader Subhash Desai and his colleagues to the State Election Commissioner Neela Satyanarayana recently, she had agreed to the matter in principle.

"The commissioner had said that it would depend on the resources available with the commission. I am told that the demand will be accepted soon," said Tawde. Shirish Sawant, general secretary of MNS, said, "The party is of the view that if counting for local bodies is done before polling for the civic body, then the results of the latter will be influenced."

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