Almost 28,000 electronic voting machines (EVMs) out of 93,000, which were sent to different regional, district and upazila level offices, have turned unusable due to lack of maintenance in the last four years.
The election commission, however, says those are not completely damaged and can be used after repair.
Already some initiatives have been taken up regarding this. Such a situation has emerged due to the lack of arrangements for proper maintenance, EC adds.
The EC had taken up a five-year project for purchasing EVMs before the parliamentary election in 2018. The cost of the project was estimated at Tk 38.25 billion. Some 150,000 EVMs were procured under this project.
According to EC sources, of these 150,000 EVMs, some 93,000 were sent to different regional, district and upazila level offices of EC.
Apart from this, a total of 54,500 EVMs are kept at the Bangladesh Machine Tools Factory (BMTF). Besides, some 2,500 EVMs are kept at the Nirbachan Bhaban (election building) in the capital’s Agargaon area. The EC was supposed to get a 10-year warranty for the EVMs purchased under this project.
The officials in charge of the EVM project have started gathering information on the condition of the EVMs outside Dhaka since early September.
According to the information that the officials have collected, 30 per cent of these EVMs have become useless. Most of these have various hardware related problems. In some cases, different parts of the machines are damaged or lost. Apart from this, some 45,500 EVMs have been kept in paper packets. There are doubts about the quality of these EVMs. The commission is yet to verify their quality.
According to sources concerned, there is no allocation for the maintenance of these machines. There is a lack of space in different offices of the EC at field level. Therefore, the EC rented warehouses in 30 districts to store the EVMs. The process of renting warehouses in other districts is also underway. The longevity of the EVMs is declining due to the lack of maintenance. In addition to financial losses, there is fear of a crisis of usable EVMs during the upcoming elections.
The sources in EC say there is inconsistency between the numbers of EVMs sent to different offices and the information obtained from the field level. A total of 93,410 EVMs were sent to field level offices under the EVM project. However, there is information about some 80,170 EVMs at field levels at the moment.
Syed Raqibul Hasan, director of the EVM project, told Prothom Alo that, “The 30 per cent of the EVMs is not completely damaged. It can be repaired. In some cases the monitor is damaged or the battery is damaged or the fingerprint scanner is not working properly or the buttons are damaged. Already some 10,000 EVMs have been sent to the machine tools factory in Gazipur for repairing.”
“Due to lack of arrangements for proper maintenance, the EVMs were kept in such places. As a result, the voting machines got damaged. There are proposals of warehouses for proper maintenance under the new EVM project that has been taken up. There is a five-year service warranty for these EVMs and a one-year guaranty for different parts,” he added.
The longevity of EVM varies from country to country. Usually, an EVM remains active for five to ten years. Therefore, it is necessary to address why the EVMs in the country got damaged within four years.Abdul Alim, polls expert
Regarding the inconsistency in the number of EVMs, he said, “None of the EVMs, which were sent to different offices, is lost. A number of EVMs were shifted from one upazila to others without tracking. For this reason, there may be inconsistency in the number of EVMs.
Some four registered political parties, including the ruling Awami League, are in favour of using EVMs in the elections. On the other hand, most of the parties in opposition are against the use of EVMs in the election. Even the Jatiya Party (JaPa), which is the main opposition party in the Jatiya Sangsad, has no confidence in EVMs. Despite all these, the EC has taken its stance in favour of using EVMs in the polls.
Speaking to Prothom Al regarding the 28,000 unusable EVMs purchased earlier, polls expert Abdul Alim said, “The longevity of EVM varies from country to country. Usually, an EVM remains active for five to ten years. Therefore, it is necessary to address why the EVMs in the country got damaged within four years. The commission should have made arrangements for the proper maintenance of the EVMs.”
“The EC should have a complete analysis of the problems that arose in the EVMs. Besides, the stakeholders should be informed about this as well, because an election means transparency, without which lack of confidence emerges.” Abdul Alim added.
*This report appeared on the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu