Maharashtra Lok Sabha bypolls: Shiv Sena, opposition demand re-election due to EVM malfunction; Claims exaggerated, says ECI
The voter turnout remained low in both Palghar and Bhandrara-Gondia Lok Sabha constituencies where there were complaints of malfunctioning in EVMs and VVPAT machines.
MUMBAI: Shiv Sena and other opposition parties raised hackles on Monday after complaints of malfunctioning in EVMs and VVPAT machines as the Palghar and Bhandrara-Gondia lok Sabha constituencies went in for vote. While claiming that the incidents of EVM malfunctioning were widespread, the opposition also demanded re-election and returning back to the ballot papers. Election Commission of India (ECI) officials, however, brushed aside all claims of EVM malfunctioning terming them as “Exaggerated”.
Meanwhile, the voter turnout remained low in both the constituencies. At the end of the day the tentative polling percentage in Bhandara-Gondiya was 42 percent, while in Palghar (ST) it was 46.50 percent. In the May 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Bhandara-Gondiya had recorded a voting percentage of 72.31 percent and in Palghar (ST) it was 62.91 percent.
Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Congress, Bahujan Vikas Aghadi (BVA) and BhaRiP Bahujan Mahasang (BBMS) all raised objections over the conduct of elections in Palghar as well as Bhandara Gondia. Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut charged the BJP of manipulating the EVMs. While senior NCP leader Praful Patel questioned ECI’s move to requisition EVMs from Surat in Gujarat. Politics heats up as opposition allege faults with EVMs and VVPATs in Maharashtra. Palghar district collector rules out Shiv Sena’s demand for re-poll, while BMS chief Prakash Ambedkar too demanded re-poll in Bhadara.
Raut alleged that the BJP was not only distributing money but also switching off EVM machines. “Earlier, people used to capture booths. Today they have the keys of the EVM machines in their hands. The election commission is under tremendous pressure from the government. The returning officer fears for his job, refuses to take cognizance of money distribution and other illegal practices,” he said.
Patel on the other hand questioned the credibility of the remaining 75 percent of the polling that took place in Bhandara-Gondiya constituency. Terming it as a mockery of democracy, he added that EVMs at 25 per cent polling stations have malfunctioned already in Bhandara-Gondia.
Patel also demanded scrapping of the EVMs and voting be held once again by ballot paper. Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) president Ashok Chavan demanded a re-poll on all those polling booths where the EVMs malfunctioned.
Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) leader Prakash Ambedkar argued, “I have received reports of problems in some 450 polling stations. Its clear that the EVM-VVPATs have been tampered with as the BJP is losing the election. The entire elections must be canceled and held afresh. We have been demanding the election through secret ballot for quite a long time. The government is not taking the cognizance of this demand. I will be writing to the EC to conduct the re-poll and start the old ballot paper system once again”.
However, in a swift clarification the ECI stated that reports appearing in the media of “large scale” failure of Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) in the ongoing by-elections and interruption of poll in the state of Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh “are an exaggerated projection of reality”.
On reports aired by some private news channels that polling being cancelled in 35 polling booths in Bhandara-Gondiya, the ECI termed the reports as “not based on facts”. It further stated that reports about EVMs and VVPAT machines failing in 25 percent of polling booths in Bhandara-Gondiya “are also incorrect”.
Speaking to newspersons later, ECIs Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Shirish Mohod stated that there were certain cases of failure due to technical problems in the EVMs and VVPATs. He added that the faulty machines were replaced as and when required following a protocol and that polling was going on peacefully in both the constituencies.
Earlier in the day, BVA leader Hitendra Thakur had levelled allegations that the local BJP leaders were offering snacks and lunch to people while appealing them to go for vote. He lodged complaint regarding such incidents. He also alleged that a petrol pump owner had offered cheaper petrol to voters. The petrol pump owner, however, said that he was just following the oil company guidelines that had suggested promotional offers to increase percentage of voting in the area.