Addressing reporters after reviewing poll preparedness in the state, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora also said the Assembly poll expenditure limit of candidates cannot be changed for now.
The Election Commission on Wednesday ruled out the use of ballot papers in next month’s Maharashtra Assembly elections, terming them “history” and defended EVMs, saying these machines cannot be tampered with. Addressing reporters after reviewing poll preparedness in the state, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora also said the Assembly poll expenditure limit of candidates cannot be changed for now.
His comments come in the wake of parties like the Shiv Sena and the NCP demanding that ceiling be raised from the present Rs 28 lakh per candidate. More central armed forces would be deployed in Left wing extremism-affected areas of the state, he said. The Congress and NCP were among the key opposition parties which raised alarm about the use of the electronic voting machines (EVMs) in elections.
“Parties keep raising the issue (of EVMs). We have told them politely and firmly that ballot paper is history now. And I can tell all of you, all of us can tell you looking into your eyes, that EVM cannot be, I repeat, cannot be tampered with,” Arora said.
“It can malfunction like any other machine, like your watch, vehicle can malfunction. But it cannot be tampered with, it is a standalone machine, different from other machines,” he said. Even the Supreme Court, in its rulings on the issues relating to EVMs, has “kind of upheld this”, Arora said. The issue about discrepancy in actual votes polled and counted during the Lok Sabha election did not figure in the Commission’s meetings with the political parties on Wednesday. On some parties seeking specific election dates keeping in mind Diwali festival, Arora said the Commission considers various factors before preparing the poll schedule. All the parties talked about Diwali next month and cited different dates (for holding elections), he said.
“But in any case, while deciding the dates, the commission does try to take care of various factors like holidays and schools, examinations of kids, very important festivals of different religions,” he said. The election dates and number of phases it will be conducted in will be duly informed at a Press briefing in Delhi, he said. Arora also said efforts will be made to increase voting percentage in the ensuing Assembly polls. Movement of central forces from one place to another is a significant factor in deciding polling dates, Arora said. Arora said Maharashtra’s chief secretary asked him if the state administration can continue doing relief work in some Western Maharashtra districts like Sangli and Kolhapur.
“We told them there are provisions on this in the MCC (model code of conduct) and if they (the state administration) will make a need-based case, the Commission will consider sympathetically,” he said. He said the Commission attaches “maximum importance” to ensuring conducive environment for “free and fair elections” whether it is Lok Sabha or the Assembly.
Voters’ slip distribution should be started early enough, he said, adding Maharashtra’s Chief Electoral Officer has assured that more care will be taken on this count. The Commission has also sought effective utilisation of information technology applications such as CVigil, a tool of citizen empowerment, he said. The parties feel polling stations should be located on ground floor to facilitate senior citizens and differently abled persons, he said.
The state administration has already shifted many polling stations to ground floor, he said. Arora said during their visit to Maharashtra, the election commissioners on Wednesday interacted with political parties, district administration and central regulatory agencies, chief secretary, DGP and other senior officials to review preparations for the Assembly elections.