For most of you concerned about the plight of Hari Prasad, let me give you the good news. He is doing fine. On the legal front, the father-son duo of Ram Jethmalani and Mahesh Jethmalani, India’s ace criminal lawyers whom I met yesterday in Mumbai agreed to defend Hari Prasad in the case. Mahesh Jethmalani will appear in court on behalf of Hari Prasad. Both the lawyers were horrified that a technologist with good intentions of strengthening democracy was being harassed in this manner raising serious question marks about the motives. Watch out for one of the most fascinating battles for saving democracy from one of the country’s finest lawyers.
I made a day’s trip to Mumbai yesterday to have a ‘feel’ of the ground situation, to tie up the legal help and to explore other factors leading to the arrest. Some shocking facts have surfaced.
Hari Prasad: An “ECI” don!!
The kind of attention that was given to Hari Prasad’s arrest would have got the Mumbai police the most dreaded gangsters into their net. I gather that nearly a dozen top ranking police officers including DSPs, Inspectors General of Police and DG were involved in strategizing and executing Hari Prasad’s arrest. Mumbai Police has many more serious things to worry about and alleged ‘theft’ of an EVM (a low grade, low cost device) should be the last thing on their minds. That shows the amount of pressure that was brought upon the police to pursue the case.
Poor storage of EVMs
The EVM vulnerability demonstration happened in the month of February last. The same was shown on TV9 after a gap of two months in April. And the Election Commission of India filed the complaint in May.
That means, for nearly two months after the EVM went missing from its godown, the ECI or its District Election Officer (DEO) had no idea that the voting machine was missing until it was shown in a TV demonstration. Even after the telecast, it had taken nearly two weeks or longer for the ECI to establish that the EVM belonged to Mumbai.
This brings out the shocking reality that the EVMs are completely unsafe in their custody. Does this not show that the much trumpeted talk that the EVMs have excellent administrative safeguards and cannot be accessed by outsiders is mere propaganda and has no basis?
I have repeatedly stated that the EVMs stored in godowns all around the country in taluka and remote locations are not safe. If this is the state of affairs in India’s largest metropolitan city, imagine how safe the EVMs would be in far flung areas. People may have carried them away by dozens and still went unnoticed. I am not joking.
Until now the ECI had no proper records or inventory of EVMs. The ECI had issued guidelines on May 3, 2010 only after the vulnerability demonstration by Hari Prasad and team was televised. The guidelines read, “Details of all EVMs in the district shall be entered in Master Stock Register (MSR). MSR shall be maintained warehouse-wise for every district…”
Read the full text of the guidelines here:
The above guidelines are in response to the demonstration by Hari Prasad and team. Rather than thank him and other experts for making them realize their faultlines, the ECI has begun witch hunt. Is that how independent election bodies are expected to behave?
Lack of Accountability
The ECI claims that Hari Prasad must be punished because he was in possession of ECI’s EVM. Does it not have a system of accountability for its own officials who are vested with the responsibility to safeguard the machines? I have gathered from important sources that nobody had been held responsible for this dereliction of duty in Mumbai Collector’s office. The reason: they could not ascertain who was responsible for storage of the godown where the missing EVM originally belonged.
Stamp out EVM critics
If the Election Commission of India could have its way, it would have all of us involved in highlighting the vulnerabilities of electronic voting machines arrested and prosecuted. The complaint filed by the district Election commissioner (at the instigation of the Election Commission of India) makes the following sweeping statement:
“The matter needs to be investigated to identify all persons involved who are responsible for the illegal removal, retention and tampering of the Control Unit and at whose behest, backing, financial and other assistance the same has been done.” (page 3 of the complaint filed by the District Election Officer)
ECI’s don’t blame us stance
The Election Commission has put out a press release claiming that it had no role in the matter of arrest of Hari Prasad. This is far from the truth. The complaint against Hari Prasad suddenly picked up momentum in the fist week of August. Is it the activism exhibited by the new chief election commissioner S.Y. Quraishi or is a handiwork of his outgoing predecessor, Navin Chawla is unknown. Whoever it is, it is unimportant. For us, it is the institution of the ECI that has unleashed the might of the government against ordinary, well meaning critics. Why now pretend to being uninvolved in the case?
If the criticism of EVMs is getting on the nerves of commission’s top executives, the only recourse is to have a dialogue with all concerned. The more it pursues the confrontational path, the worse will be its effects for the credibility of the institution. EVM critics only want a reformed voting system, but a determined ECI, it seems, has chosen to sully its own image.
I can be reached at nrao@indianEVM.com