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Let them be held accountable

The status of the Election Commission’s Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) project has become ‘Fande Padiya Baga Kande Re’. This constitutional institution does not understand what to do now.

It is known from various media that the Election Commission bought one and a half lakh EVMs in 2018. The project under which these machines were purchased is expiring next June. There is no funding in the project even for maintenance of EVMs. The lifespan of these devices is supposed to be 10 years. But within five years, more than one lakh EVMs have become useless.

People concerned say that the EC took up a “flawed” project of Rs 3,825 crore to buy EVMs in haste before the 11th National Assembly elections. In this case, the recommendation of the technical committee formed under the leadership of Jamilur Reza Chowdhury was not accepted. The technical committee recommended adding Voter Variable Paper Audit Trail or VVPAT (printed on a piece of paper after voting in the machine) to the EVMs.

EC led by Kazi Habibul Awal decided to use EVM in maximum 150 seats in the last 12th National Assembly elections. However, in the midst of the economic crisis, no new scheme was approved, so in the end, no EVMs were used in any seats. After 2018, EVMs are used in by-elections and local government elections in various parliamentary constituencies. In this year’s upazila elections, EVMs are supposed to be used for voting in 9 districts.

These EVMs were supplied to the EC by the government organization Bangladesh Machine Tools Factory Limited (BMTF).

In February last year, the company informed the EC that around 40,000 devices were damaged. The remaining 1 lakh 10 thousand EVMs also need repair. It will cost 1 thousand 260 crores. It is unusual for 60,000 EVMs to fail in a span of 14 months. If this clause continues, it may not be necessary for the Commission to write to the Government for advice.

Election Commissioner Md. Alamgir also admitted that there were flaws in the way the project was planned during the previous Election Commission. Manpower resources for repair, maintenance and operation of EVMs were not included in the scheme.

EVMs were introduced to make elections more transparent and fair. But what is the status of that election? After the introduction of EVMs, there have been two parliamentary elections, which have been highly contested. How can elections be fair and transparent when there is no competition, be it in the ballot or in the EVM?

Where in India 22 thousand rupees were spent to buy a machine, why it was bought for about 2 lakh 35 thousand rupees in Bangladesh? Despite strong objections and protests, KM Nurul Huda Commission did not take it into consideration.

The Huda Commission can blame the political leadership for not being able to hold a credible election. But how can they avoid the responsibility of buying substandard and defective EVMs? A constitutional institution cannot do whatever it likes. Those who wasted public tax money in the name of buying EVMs, must be held accountable.

The current commission inherited the EVMs. If they do not conduct a fair and credible investigation in this matter, then they will also have to bear the responsibility of the misdeeds of the predecessor.