Bharat Electronics Demands Fee for Info on EVMs under RTI; Later, Says It Has No Info
Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) and Electronics Corporation of India Ltd (ECIL) are manufacturers of electronic voting machines (EVMs), voter verified paper trail (VVPAT) units and symbol loading units (SLUs), which have been under the watchful eye of RTI (Right to Information) activists, against the backdrop of alleged tampering of EVMs in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Venkatesh Nayak, research scholar and programme co-ordinator of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), filed RTI applications to both the organisations, seeking identical information on: 
  • the maximum number of votes recordable on each EVM supplied for use in the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections;


  • the maximum number of votes printable on each VVPAT machine; 


  • the district-wise number of control units of EVMs transported across India;


  • the district-wise number of ballot units of EVMs transported across India;


  • the district-wise number of VVPATs transported across India; 


  • the district-wise number of thermal paper rolls used in VVPATs transported across India;


  • Photocopy of the list of engineers with name and designation, deputed for carrying out tasks relating to the preparation of EVMs and VVPATs that was sent to every district election officer in India and similar information on SLUs.
The central public information officer (CPIO) of BEL, to this requisition under RTI in June 2019, promptly replied that information could be supplied at a cost of Rs1,434 for the photocopying of pages. 
However, a month later, BEL completely somersaulted stating that BEL did not hold most of the information and also rejected one of the queries (pertaining to names of engineers) stating that disclosure would endanger the life of its engineers and actually returned the bank draft that Mr Nayak had sent for fee payment! 
As for the ECIL, it has uploaded some of this information on the RTI online facility but rejected access to some crucial bits of information sought in my RTI application. States Mr Nayak, “I have not received a formal reply from the ECIL's under its central public information officer's signature, via email or in hard copy till date. As for the BEL, I promptly sent the CPIO, BEL a bank draft for Rs1,434 for the 700 plus pages of records, while reserving my right to appeal against his refusal to part with the VVPAT application. Then I waited for more than a month for this information thinking that the delay might be because of the time taken to copy 700+ pages of records. After 40 days had lapsed, on 28 August 2019, I filed a first appeal, challenging the non-supply of information. That’s when the CPIO who was silent until then, woke up and sent a reply returning the bank draft and claimed that BEL did not have the information that I had asked for.”
Mr Nayak Analyses What Is Problematic with These RTI Replies?
  • BEL's CPIO had initially agreed to supply information about the number of EVMs (control and ballot units) and VVPATs manufactured by the company, and the thermal paper rolls used in the VVPATs, all of which were sent to the districts for use during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. He had also agreed to supply the list of engineers who took part in and coordinated and supervised the preparation of these machines for the elections. He had physically counted the number of pages relatable to each RTI query and demanded fees accordingly. 


  • In his revised reply, however, he states that BEL does not hold most of the requested information. So which papers did he count before sending the first reply? Only one of these replies can be true, not both. Perhaps the latest reply is an afterthought arising out of pressure exerted—probably by an external agency against making this information public. I hope the identity of this external agency is revealed during the appeal proceedings in the coming months.


  • Even more surprising is the CPIO's latest claim that revealing the names of engineers who helped with the technological aspects of polling would put their lives and physical safety in danger. If the 2019 Lok Sabha Polls were, indeed, free and fair without any element of foul play whatsoever, how could transparency endanger the lives and safety of these engineers? These companies, the ECI and the government have a lot to explain.


  • Next, ECIL's CPIO claimed that they do not have readily available information about the number of EVMs, VVPATs and thermal paper rolls that were sent by their own company to the districts. 


  • This is very strange, indeed, because ECIL was responsible for manufacturing at least 50% of these machines deployed during the 2019 elections. The elections were conducted without encountering the problem of non-availability of an adequate number of EVMs and VVPATs. So this part of the reply is also difficult to digest. 


  • The comparative picture arising from the RTI replies sent by BEL and ECIL's CPIOs: a) Both CPIOs have confirmed that their EVMs can record a maximum of 2,000 votes per machine. b) However, BEL's VVPAT Unit can record a maximum of 1,300 votes while ECIL's VVPAT can record 1,400 votes per thermal paper roll. c) Interestingly, BEL says they used 1,400 symbol loading units (SLUs) to load candidate information in the EVMs and VVPATs. But ECIL says they used 3,299 SLUs for loading candidate information on their machines in different parts of the country.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.) 
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    Arumugaraja A

    10 months ago

    EVM is a machine it can be programmed to whichever way the system administrator wants it.

    Notice on Petition Challenging RTI Amendment Act 2019 Issued by Kerala HC
    The High Court of Kerala on Wednesday issued a notice to the Centre on the basis of a petition filed by RTI activist Advocate DB Binu. The petition challenges the powers of the Right to Information (Amendment) Act 2019 stating that the recent amendments violate Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution. 
    The amendments to the RTI Act basically, prescribe that the term, salaries, allowances and conditions of service of the Central Information Commission (CIC) and State Information Commission (SIC) will now be determined by the Central government. Earlier, information commissioners had a fixed tenure of five years and their pay/allowances were on par with Election Commissioners. 
    The petition argues that “the entire independence and autonomy of the CIC and SIC have been taken away in a most undemocratic manner and in violation of the Rule of Law rendering the amendment unconstitutional”. Adv Binu explains that the RTI act was brought into force “as part of the constitutional duty of the State to give effect to the fundamental right of the citizens to get information from public authorities in a transparent manner with due accountability.”
    But since the amendments have practically taken away the independence and autonomy of the respective institutions, “the foundation stone on which the entire structure of the practical regime has been built up” will be affected, essentially rendering useless the Right to Information of citizens. The petition further argues that the amendments will also affect the efficiency of information commissioners who essentially promote transparency and accountability in the working of public authorities which also includes the government. 
    “The Parliament has no power or authority to take away the independence and autonomy of the aforesaid institutions” and “if such unbridled power is granted to the (government) the aforesaid officers who are to independently control the two vital institutions under the Act will become subordinate officers of the (government)”, the petition further reads. 
    The Amendment Bill states that the salaries and allowances of the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioner are equal to a Judge of the Supreme Court of India, as the Election Commission is a constitutional body. The amendments further say that CIC and SIC are, however, statutory bodies and the mandate of the Election Commission of India and CIC/SIC are different; therefore, their status and service conditions need to be rationalised accordingly. 
    In the petition, however, advocate Binu argues that, “This observation is factually incorrect. Status of CIC and SIC vis-a-vis other authorities similar in rank and status of the Judge of Supreme Court of India has to be considered not from the point of view of their constitutional status but from the point of view of their status having regard to the knowledge, expertise, public recognition and their status in society.” He further argues that the National Human Rights Commission, National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission and similar Commissions like Lok Pal are headed by eminent persons in the rank of the Judge of Supreme Court; but none of these commissions is a constitutional body.

    Prior to the amendments, CICs and SICs were appointed to their positions by governor of the state on the basis of a recommendation from a committee consisting of the chief minister, leader of opposition in the legislative assembly and a cabinet minister. This essentially means that CICs, SICs, and information commissioners are “envisaged as persons of high eminence in public life having expertise in their respective fields to be appointed by the highest constitutional authorities in India and on their recommendations to ensure that they are not appointed by the government at its whims and fancies.”
    On these grounds, advocate Binu represented by advocate P Chandrasekhar has prayed that the Court declare the Right to Information (Amendment) Act, 2019 as unconstitutional ultra vires of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India.
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    10 months ago

    Advocate Binu, salute to you..!!

    Mumbai police hits record high in traffic penalties, reveals RTI
    The Mumbai Traffic Police collected record fines totalling nearly Rs 139 crore in 2018 for violations of traffic rules, according to an RTI filing here on Tuesday.
    This figure is much higher compared to the Rs 8.6 crore collected in 2017, said RTI activist Jeetendra Ghadge, and the credit for this goes to the 'e-challan' system implemented by the Mumbai Traffic Police in a big way.
    "This technology - whereby an officer can simply issue an 'e-challan' from his mobile phone - has not only reduced corruption on the roads, but resulted in a massive collection of fines for the government coffers," Ghadge told IANS.
    Interestingly, the RTI also revealed that the number of drunk driving cases have considerably decreased since the past three years.
    While there were 20,768 such cases in 2016, it came down to 18,056 in 2017 and then 11,711 in 2018.
    Shockingly, in the same period, the number of teenagers caught in drunk driving cases was 1,854 while 367 women were nabbed for drunk driving.
    However, Ghadge said the Mumbai Traffic Police suspended licences in only 14 per cent of the total cases, and penalties have been collected from the remaining violators.
    Accordingly, from 2015 till July 2019, there were a total of 77,455 cases of drunk driving in Mumbai, but the licences of only 10,702 offenders have been suspended, as per the RTI figures.
    "The figures clearly reveal that Mumbaikars are quite an indisciplined lot while driving on roads and even hefty fines/penalties don't act as a deterrent. Since time is more valuable than money for Mumbaikars, brief periods of detention (jail) or community services, as prevalent in some advanced countries, could teach them a lesson," Ghadge said.
    Similarly, the problem of drunk driving must be dealt with more strictly rather than just collecting fines and letting off the offenders without punishment, he said.
    Ghadge says that the traffic police must consider suspension of driving licence in every drunk driving case, go after the offenders from bars and pubs when they start driving instead of relying on the usual roadblocks ('naka-bandi') to catch them.
    Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.
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    Meenal Mamdani

    10 months ago

    I am very happy to read this.

    While I do not minimize the importance of curbing drunk driving through stiffer penalties, the majority of traffic violations I have witnessed are done in broad daylight, at traffic signals by impatient, irresponsible two-wheeler drivers.

    They do not obey lane markings, they climb on pavements to get ahead, they veer dangerously between cars, going the wrong way on a one way street, they jump the signals causing a lot of fear among people trying to cross during the green walk signals. Also majority do not wear helmets. The rider on the pillion never wears one even if the driver wears one; as if the life of the pillion rider is expendable.

    I think if police employ temporary traffic monitors for 3 months as a trial at as many traffic signals as possible, I bet the fines will not only cover the salaries of these wardens, the police department will make a handsome profit too.

    The instant e-challan will definitely make these reckless drivers change their ways quite swiftly.

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