New-age, ‘tamper-proof ‘ EVMs come at a heavy cost

NEW DELHI: With the 2014 general elections in sight, the Election Commission is scrambling to do what is proving to be a herculean task — introducing new-age EVMs with a voter-verifiable paper audit trail. However, those questioning the tamper-proof nature of the EVMs and campaigning for a paper trail of the ballots may have to wait beyond the next Lok Sabha polls for a complete switchover to the new system.
According to sources in the EC, the huge costs involved — given that 7 lakh of the 11 lakh existing EVMs deployed in Lok Sabha polls are incompatible with a printing unit — coupled with the high incidence of snags associated with printers, have made the EC wary if it can manage a full-scale , new-age EVM based general election by 2014.

At most, senior officials at Nirvachan Sadan feel, the panel can introduce the new voter-verifiable paper trail system in some select states, while letting the other states vote with the old set of EVMs.

With elections 20 months away, the EC is holding trials for the new voter-verifiable paper trail-compatible EVM prototypes. The cost implications are huge. To update an existing EVM and have it attached to a printer is estimated to cost anything between Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000.

And if all the EVMs are to be updated, the total cost would work out to nearly Rs 1,000 crore. However, of the 11 lakh existing EVMs, only 4 lakh are compatible with printers. The remaining cannot even be updated .

Besides, printers being bulky and prone to snags like ink-related issues and jamming, especially in extreme climates, and the rather-impractical task of having them serviced and maintained in between elections, the EC views the solution as highly impractical in the long run.

There is the second option of going in for an entirely new set of EVMs, which will have an in-built hardware to enable a paper trail. This will cost approximately Rs 1,800 crore, EC sources said.

According to an EC official, it is more feasible to replace all the existing EVMs and bring in brand new papertrail-enabled EVMs. However, this will be impossible by the 2014 general election.

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