Saturday, May 18, 2024

Voters have a right to the VVPAT slip


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Another 11 days are left for Phase 1 of the election to the 18th Lok Sabha which begins on April 19, 2024 and 56 days for the votes to be counted on June 4, 2024. The major concerns of discerning voters are about the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and whether their vote is recorded as cast. This concern can be best addressed by a simple solution and that is to present voters a proof of their vote (VVPAT slip) outside the black box so that they can verify and drop it into a box, so that it becomes a second source of truth of the election process, after the Electronic Voting Machine. Since all who are eligible to vote in the 8th Lok Sabha election will still cast their votes by pressing a button on the EVM, they should be given a physical copy of the printed VVPAT slip, which can be verified to make sure that their vote has been recorded as he/she had casted and dropped the VVPAT slip in a box. This ensures that there will be two places where the vote is recorded – the EVM and the VVPAT slip box. Both should be counted and matched before the results are declared.
It is heartening that the Supreme Court has taken cognizance of a petition filed by lawyer and activist Arun Kumar Aggarwal and the NGO Association for Democratic Reform (ADR) that seeks to address the issue of Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) verification during elections. The petition challenges the Election Commission’s guidelines that mandate sequential VVPAT verification. Currently, only five randomly selected Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in each Assembly segment of a parliamentary constituency undergo VVPAT verification. The petitioners contend that this sequential process causes undue delay. The plea suggests an alternative approach and that is a simultaneous verification of VVPAT slips and deploying more officers for quick counting.
The government has invested nearly Rs 5000 crore in purchasing approximately 24 lakh VVPATs, yet presently, only about 20,000 VVPAT slips are verified. The petitioner emphasizes the importance of ensuring that every voter’s ballot is accurately counted by allowing them to physically drop their VVPAT slip into the ballot box. The Supreme Court on 1st April 2024 issued notice to the Election Commission regarding this plea. This is an ongoing matter and the court’s final decision will determine the actual implementation. We should not lose sight that in a democracy, sovereignty vests with the citizens and elections are the tools for the citizens to transfer this sovereignty to their chosen representative. To do so, elections and voting systems must adhere to democratic principles. Not only should the election process be free and fair, it must also be seen to be free and fair. If the Apex Court rules in favour of the petitioners, it could lead to more efficient and comprehensive VVPAT verification during elections.
Yours etc.;
Via email

Evil of caste discrimination persists
A memorable incident happened at Metro Railway Kolkata five years ago. There was no trace of Covid at that time and I was only one and half years shy of becoming a senior citizen. I was returning home and was standing before a general seat in a Metro coach, not before a seat reserved for the senior citizens. A young man in his twenties stood up vacating his seat and asked me to sit there. I declined the offer saying that I was quite okay. Seeing that he was not in a mood to listen to me, I forcibly pushed him to sit again telling him that I had no problem standing. But again, he stood up. Then he said with all the love in the world, “bolchhi tumi boso (I am telling you to sit).”
In Kolkata Metro Railway coaches, some seats are reserved for women and a few seats for senior citizens and people with disabilities. But there would have been no need to reserve seats for anyone if all the people were like that young man. The reservation signboards over some seats actually indicate that there are many passengers who do not have enough compassion. Reservation of seats in a train therefore acts as a necessary antidote to inhumanity.
Similarly, reservation on the basis of caste indicates that caste hatred, untouchability, and caste favouritism are there in our society. We need caste reservation as an antidote to caste- based nepotism. There would be no need for caste reservation when all the people become as progressive, sane and humane as Nobel laureate, Kailash Satyarthi.
When he was a fifteen-year-old boy, Kailash Satyarthi made a plan to organise a community dinner where the food would be cooked and served by the Dalits in a hygienic, neat and clean environment. He invited prominent political leaders and people from upper castes. Interestingly, they gladly accepted the invitation. A newly built park in Vidisha with Gandhi’s statue at the centre was chosen as the venue.
The ladies who were to cook food had put on brand new clothes and had brought absolutely clean utensils for cooking. The dinner was ready. Everybody had been waiting anxiously for the guests for a long time. But not even a single person or political leader turned up. The food was still fresh but the incident dampened the enthusiasm of Kailash, his friends and the Dalits.
The double standards of those people were out in the open. Kailash clearly understood that the so-called leaders who used to speak against the practice of untouchability and discrimination in public gatherings were actually haters of backward castes. Then Kailash and others sat together for dinner.
While having his dinner Kailash burst into tears. One of the women who had cooked the food walked up to him and encouraged him. She said, “You are the bravest person that we have seen in our life. You are eating the food that we have prepared.” They thanked the boy for his initiative against the hatred for them.
Kailash Satyarthi’s failure to organise a community dinner party also uncovered the double standard in our society regarding caste. The situation has remained unchanged. Today caste favouritism can be seen everywhere even in the allocation of PhD guides. It has been reported that upper-caste teachers have been showing a preference for scholars from their own community. On the other hand, upper-caste research scholars are also preferring higher caste teachers.
We need caste reservation in every sphere to minimise the incidents of favouring candidates of one’s own caste during the selection process for admission, recruitment and promotion under the guise of merit.
Caste reservation is a necessary antidote to caste discrimination. Let social justice do the final talking. A highly intelligent serial killer may have more IQ than Kailash Satyarthi but we do not need the former.
Yours etc.,
Sujit De,


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