For the first time ever, Indian elections will be completely electronic. All polling for both the assembly and the Lok Sabha elections will be conducted on Electronic Voting Machines. Two Indian public sector giants, Bharat Electronics and Electronic Corporation of India Ltd, are supplying the EVM.
The deadline for supplying 25,000 EVM to the Election Commission for the current election was March 31. Over the past decade and half, this company has given the Election Commission a total of 500,000 EVM. These machines, along with those supplied by ECIL, will be used in the 700,000 booths spread across 543 parliamentary constituencies. In total, Election Commission officials will operate about a million EVM for the elections.
Bharat Electronics even introduced a third shift for its employees to meet this deadline. "Over the last two months, we raised production levels and operated the assembly lines in three shifts, so the lines worked 24 hours a day," explains BEL General Manager N N Simha.
Interestingly, there are only about 200 engineers who worked in eight-hour shifts to meet the target since the production line is highly automated. Simha says a few years ago, a 10-member team of hardware and software engineers designed and developed technology that enables BEL to produce the EVM in huge numbers.
The EVM were used for the first time extensively in the 1998 assembly election in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi. In the 1999 parliamentary election, they were used in 46 constituencies in 17 states and Union territories.
Abhijit Dasgupta, Karnataka's chief electoral officer, feels these machines will do away with mistakes. "The machines are fast, accurate, and mistake-proof," he said. "It is simple too. Each party will have a symbol and all you have to do is press the button to register your vote."
BEL has now applied for an international patent for their EVM design as the company hopes this election will help it to launch the EVM in the international market. Interestingly, different models have already been developed for four countries --Malaysia, Mauritius, Singapore and Sri Lanka -- while an African country has evinced interest.
Simha said he hoped the countries would place orders with BEL after the election. He said two countries have agreed to buy the machines, but are waiting for the election to end before placing orders. Simha refused to disclose the names of the countries.
Different countries had different specifications and BEL had to design the EVM accordingly.
Even the courts have blessed the EVM. Judge K Shridhar Rao of the Karnataka high court, in a recent order in connection with an election dispute, ruled that rigging was not possible with the use of EVM. 'Without the least doubt, I say the machine is fully tamper-proof,' he said.
Each EVM can record five to six votes a minute, up to 3,500 to 4,000 votes, and caters to a maximum of 64 candidates.
Asked what gave the EVM an edge in the international market, Simha replied, "Mainly because they are cost effective and also because they are successful and foolproof. If they work perfectly in the world's largest democracy, they should work even better elsewhere, right?"
Part II: All you wanted to know about EVMs
Image: Rahil Shaikh