RTI reveals discrepancies on functionality of EVMs and VVPATs claimed by ECI
IMPHAL | May 23
Prominent RTI activist, member, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), VenkateshNayak has today revealed the discrepancies which have been found as per an RTI application, regarding the identity of the manufacturers of micro-controller used in its EVMs and VVPATs and their functionalities.
Although, the ECI has repeatedly urged political parties and skeptics to trust the ability of the EVMs to faithfully record all votes cast through them and accurately display the electoral mandate on counting day, the “infallibility” claims about EVMs and VVPATs made by their manufacturers and their purchaser and deployer which is the Election Commission of India (ECI), continue to be a matter of ‘trust,’ Venkatesh said as per sources.
“Given the heightened anxieties over EVMs and VVPATs, it is time to publicise some information I obtained from the ECI and Bharat Electronics Ltd. (BEL) and Electronics Corporation of India Ltd. (ECIL) manufacturers of the EVMs and VVPATs, that I recently obtained under The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act),” he said.
The main findings as per the RTI application are:
(a) The micro-controllers (computer chip) embedded in the BEL-manufactured EVMs and VVPATs used in the current elections, are manufactured by NXP – a reputable multi-billion dollar corporation based in the US.
(b) ECIL has refused to disclose the identity of the manufacturer of the micro-controller used in its EVMs and VVPATs citing commercial confidence under Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act.
(c) Some segments of the media have reported in 2017, that Microchip Inc., which is headed by an NRI billionaire, supplied the EVM micro-controllers. Documents released under the RTI Act show at least BEL has not used this company’s micro-controllers in the EVMs sold to ECI for use in the current elections.
(d) While the ECI continues to claim that the micro-controller used in the EVMs is one-time programmable (OTP), the description of the micro-controller’s features on NXP’s website indicates that it has three kinds of memory – SRAM, FLASH and EEPROM (or E2PROM). Experts on micro-controllers have confirmed that a computer chip which includes FLASH memory cannot be called OTP.
(e) The ECI has not yet made any decision on the September 2018 recommendation of the Central Information Commission (CIC) to get the competent authorities to examine whether detailed information about the firmware or source code used in the EVMs can be placed in the public domain in order to create public trust in the EVM-based voting system.
(f) The ECI does not appear to have acted on the 2013 recommendation of its own Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC), despite the passage of more than five years. to make the firmware or source code embedded in the micro-controller used in EVMs transparent in order to ensure that there is no Trojan or other malware in the EVMs.
(g) ECIL replied that the firmware or source code testing was done by a third party, namely, STQC – an agency under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. But the CPIO denied access to the reports on the ground that they were too voluminous. BEL denied access to this information claiming the exemption relating to commercial confidence and intellectual property rights under Section 8(1) (d) of the RTI Act.
(h) BEL bagged a purchase order worth Rs 2,678.13 crore to supply EVMs and VVPATs to ECI. ECIL, however refused to disclose this information, also stating that despatchdata will be supplied after the general elections are completed, and
(i) While BEL claimed that the battery powering its EVM could last 16 hours of non-stop voting with four ballot units, ECIL claimed a battery life of two years for its EVMs.
(j) While ECIL claimed that the firmware and source code audit related information was “classified” and could not be disclosed under Section 8(1) (a) of the RTI Act which protects national security interests, BEL claimed commercial confidence and Intellectual Property Rights-related exemption under Section 8(1)(d) to deny access to the same information.
Venkatesh arrived at the conclusion that, “Except for ECIL, whose CPIO replied to the RTI application on the day I submitted a first appeal, the Election Commission and BEL had sent their RTI replies in April 2019 itself. I deliberately waited until the last phase of polling was completed to release this information to avoid accusations of using RTI-sourced information to influence the outcome of the elections. Now that only counting and declaration of results remains to be done, nobody need point a finger about the timing of the release of all this information.”
These RTI interventions are aimed at placing as much information as possible in the public domain about EVMs, VVPATs and other related matters which the ECI or other public authorities are reluctant to publish voluntarily, he added.
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