NEW DELHI: A retired Army Officer, a diplomat and a banker have moved the Supreme Court to issue directions to the Election Commission of India to “count and cross verify the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit rails in at least 30% (random) of all polling stations within each Assembly Segment/Constituency.”

Retired from the Army and the IAS M.G.Devasahayam, former Ambassador K.P.Fabian, retired Bank officer and General Secretary of the All Indian Bank Officers Association Thomas Franco Rajendra Dev have argued that the use of EVMs is recent, and several countries, other than India, have rejected it for violating ---as in Germany---the public nature of the elections. They have pointed out that a reasonable sampling size for cross verifying EVM counts with VVPARs is crucil to prorect the sanctity of the process of elections which “not only need to be free and fair but also need to be seen to be free and fair.”

Former diplomat and India’s Ambassador to several countries K.P. Fabian, in an interview to The Citizen, elaborates on the above pointing out that it was essential for the voter to be satisfied in a democracy.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q. What motivated you to move the courts on this issue?

A. We want to fortify India's democracy. The voter has to be sure that her vote is correctly recorded.

Many countries in Europe, including Germany and Finland, have tried and abandoned the use of EVMs.

Even if the EVM method is fool proof, in a democracy it is of paramount importance that the voter is satisfied.

We went to SC as we felt that the political parties in opposition were not taking an intelligent interest in the matter and it is for the civil society to raise such issues.

The petition says the EC has indulged in just tokenism insofar as VVPATs (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trails) are concerned. What are the specifics that the EC should do as per your petition to make the process more transparent and secure?

Yes, the EC has paid lip service to the 2009 judgment of the SC when Subramanya Swami brought it up following UPA's victory in that year. The Supreme Court ordered the use of VVPATS , but unfortunately did not specify the need for cross verification between the VVPATS counting and the EVM counting up to an appropriate percentage.

The EC has adopted the formula of cross checking one EVM from a State legislature constituency. This formula is flawed. Constituencies differ in size and the number of polling booths vary. There is no logic in cross verifying in one polling booth in a constituency of 80 booths and doing the same for another of 200 booths.

In fact, if the SC cross verifies only in one booth in the 479 constituencies for the Lok Sabha election, it will be unjustifiable statistically as given to us in writing from eminent statisticians in the Bangalore-based Indian Science Institute.

We engaged in discussions with EC, but in the absence of any meaningful response from them we decided to go to court.

Are you in a sense accusing the EC of playing to the political establishment? And against democracy and transparency?

I do not want to attribute any political agenda to EC. Perhaps, Newton's First Law of Motion explains its behavior.

What makes you believe that EVMs can be tampered with?

I do not have enough technical knowledge to say that EVMs can be tampered with or not. But, it is believed that it is possible to put a chip that makes sure that every third vote goes to a particular party.

To argue that a man-made EVM cannot be tampered by another human being is not all that convincing. Let us not forget that EC does not have the logistical capability to keep an eye on the lakhs of EVMs kept in thousands of places. To my mind, while the EC will not indulge in any tampering, its ability to prevent tampering by others is limited.

In the recent case of a demonstration in London, it has been reported that it was demonstrated that an EVM was tamperable. Of course, it was not a EC EVM. But, can we say that our EVMs are so special and therefore untamperable. The logical thing to do is to make available an EVM and challenge anyone to tamper with it in public. Has the EC done it so far?

Please note that I am not asserting that EVMs have been tampered with in India. The question is whether they can be tampered with and EC's answer is categorical. Is that answer convincing?

To what extent can VVPATs ensure a fair and free poll?

Assuming that the tamperer cannot tamper with VVPATS, cross verification by 30% or more will give us statistical justification for claiming that the counting process is credible. The current EC formula is less than 1%.

Incidentally, I have not myself seen a VVPAT when I voted. I am told that it is displayed only for a few seconds. EC can give more publicity to VVPATS so that the voter will look for it.

Would back to the ballot paper be better still?

Yes. Going back to the ballot papers will make sense. There the voter can see his vote recorded correctly.

Arguments against the ballot paper system are not valid. Booth capturing and stuffing of ballot boxes can be prevented as we deploy thousands of security personnel. CCTV and more can be used.

To argue that we should go for technology for the sake of technology is ridiculous. Technology worship is as ridiculous as idolatry. Take the case of digital payment system. Is there a prompt remedy if the payment has not been received by the intended party. Is there anyone to talk to?

I found an unintelligent voice answering me when I tried to make a complaint about a credit card transaction. Technology has to be used intelligently and where appropriate.

Should not the political parties who take up the issue sporadically done what you are doing today, moving the SC?

The political parties are slowly waking up. One of them has advocated going back to the ballot system. Let us hope that all of them will wake up on time by reading THE CITIZEN regularly.