EC to seek govt decision on 100 thousand EVM out of order

EVMFile Photo: Prothom Alo

The Election Commission in 2018 purchased 150,000 Electronic Voting Machines (EVM). The duration of these machines was to be 10 years, but now over 100,000 are already out of order, within just five years. The term of the project under which these machines were purchased ends in June. There are no funds in the project for the maintenance of the EVMs.

The Election Commission (EC) is in a dilemma over what to do with these out-of-order machines. This constitutional body will now approach the government for a decision in this regard. They will send a letter to the government asking for instructions about the inoperative EVMs.

Concerned persons say that the EC hurriedly took up a 'flawed' project before the 11th Jatiya Sangsad election to purchase EVMs at a cost of Tk 38.25 billion (Tk 3,825 crore), resulting in the present predicament.

The EVMs bought before the 2018 election cost Tk 235,000 each. This was 11 times higher the price paid by India for such machines. There was much debate in the political arena over the use of EVM, but the commission did not take that into cognizance.

Sources say that before the project was passed, a number of decisions were taken at the meeting of the Planning Commission's socioeconomic infrastructure division held on 12 September 2018. This included that once the EVMs were bought, these would have to be maintained properly and the supplier company would have to provide a 10-year warranty. The breakdown of the maintenance costs would have to be given. However, eventually the project was passed with no separate provision for maintenance. It had also been recommended to buy the EVM in phases rather than all 150,000 in one go, but no heed was paid to that either.

The Election Commission had formed a technical committee headed by Professor Jamilur Reza Chowdhury for a review before the purchase of these machines. The committee also had recommended that voter variable paper trail (VVPT) be included with the machines, but the Election Commission did not take that into consideration either.

EVM to be used in upazila election in 9 districts

The project for the purchase of the EVM was passed towards the end of October 2018. While the machines were bought hurriedly at a huge cost, these used in only six seats of the election held in December 2018.

The Election Commission of Kazi Habibul Awal decided to use EVM in 150 seats at the most in the recently held 12th parliamentary polls. However, as no new project was approved amid the economic crisis, the EVM was not eventually used in any of the constituencies.

After 2018, EVM was used in various parliamentary by-election and local government elections. EVM will be used in 9 districts for the upazila polls this time.

Not only was this project to buy EVMs flawed, but the machines were sub-standard. There was no provision for maintenance of the machines. There is need to look into why and in whose interests there machines were purchased at such exorbitant costs, and punitive action taken against those responsible.
Badiul Alam Majumdar, Secretary, Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (SHUJAN)

The government's Bangladesh Machine Tools Factory Limited (BMTF) supplied these EVM to the Election Commission. In February last these, BMTF informed the Election Commission that around 40,000 of the machines were damaged. The remaining 110,000 EVMs also required repairs. This would require Tk 12.6 billion (Tk 1260 crore). The finance ministry did not provide the Election Commission with these funds.

Sources of the EVM project said, at least 105,000 EVM are out of order or unfit for use. Of these 30,000 to 40,000 are beyond repair. Basically, most of the EVM are partially damaged due to lack of allocations for repair.

Flawed project

Speaking to the media on Wednesday, election commissioner Md Alamgir said that they had 'inherited' these EVM from the previous election commission. Their observation was that the project planning had been flawed. There had been no piloting. The project had no provision for the repair, maintenance and workforce for the operating of these machines. A proposal will be sent to the government in this regard. However, he said, the Election Commission under the present circumstances has no plan to take up any project for the purchase of EVM.

However, prior to the last parliamentary election, the present commission had wanted to buy 200,000 EVM afresh. They had send at Tk 87.11 billion (Tk 8711 crore) project to the planning commission in this regard. The project was no passed due to the prevailing economic conditions. The term of the project to purchase EVM in 2018 ended in June 2023. The term was later extended.

Election Commission sources say that the project term will end in June this year. The commission is in a dilemma over what will happen then with the EVM. Most of the machines are out or order and will require huge funds for repair. Once the repairs were done, funds and human resources would be required for maintenance of the machines. As it is, dues amounting to over Tk 500 million (Tk 50 crore) have piled up as rent for their storage. EC will not apply directly for maintenance funds. They will inform the government of the situation by letter. The EC has another alternative, and that is to dispose of the machines.

Additional secretary of the election commission, Ashok Debnath, told Prothom Alo that the problem was that there is no provision for maintenance in the project. A letter will be submitted to the cabinet division for a decision on what to do with the EVMs. The EVMs that are in working condition will be used for as long as possible.

The use of EVM in the country began on an experimental basis in 2010 and this expanded further in 2018. There had been political debate over the use of these machines since the very outset. Awami League and some of its allies were in favour of the EVM. BNP, Jatiya Party and most of the other parties were suspicious and mistrustful of the EVM.  Many of the voters too were not comfortable with using these machines. The Election Commission also acknowledged that many voters had a technology phobia. There were also delays when using the EVM as fingerprints would not match and other technical glitches.

Secretary of Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (SHUJAN) Badiul Alam Majumdar told Prothom Alo, not only was this project to buy EVMs flawed, but the machines were sub-standard. There was no provision for maintenance of the machines. He said that there is need to look into why and in whose interests there machines were purchased at such exorbitant costs, and punitive action taken against those responsible.

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