Former Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat, who demitted office on December 1, has said that rising abuse of money power in state elections was the first and foremost challenge he faced during his tenure in Election Commission.
Rawat said money power and fake news on social media are the major cause for concern on the global level.
"The first and foremost challenge for us is the abuse of money power in state elections. When our machinery seized a lot of money in Tamil Nadu elections, we decided to countermand elections in two constituencies invoking our power under Article 324. That really had an impact and people became aware that this kind of shock too can come," Rawat said.
Asked if Election Commission succeeded in controlling or eradicating the use of money power during polls after countermanding elections in two Tamil Nadu constituencies, Rawat said: "No! Not at all. It is on the rise. Money abuse and circulation of fake news on social media are a major concern not only for India's Election Commission but also elections abroad. They are all worried.
"All election management bodies the world over are seized of these threats. We are meeting each other and sharing practices which can effectively deal with these issues... Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act deals with these issues and it is also under review. But, a lot needs to be done.
"Social media is very responsible for all democracies worldwide because fake news can change the voting behaviour of the people and bring an outcome which is detrimental to the governance," he said.
In a tenure of little over three years as Commissioner and Chief Election Commissioner since January 23, 2018, Rawat said he had a very good experience in the commission and that whatever could be done was achieved in his tenure except for "reviewing and reforming the legal work".
Voting in Left Wing Extremist (LWE) areas and unattended complaints are the second and third big challenges, Rawat said, the Election Commission faced.
"On polling day, political parties keep complaining that nobody comes, nobody listens and nobody responds. To address that, the Election Commission brought out c-Vigil (citizen vigilance) application. Now, the power is in the hands of every citizen. The application can be downloaded on the mobile phone. If you see anything wrong happening, take a photo or video and submit it. It will land in the in-box of the authorities responsible for taking action.
"And they are tasked by the Election Commission to immediately verify the veracity of the complaint and act, such as lodging an FIR or arresting people... responding within stipulated time."
He stressed updating the RP Act 1951. "Our Acts are of 1950-51 vintage. Rules under these Acts were formulated in 1960-61. They have served elections very well, but emerging challenges are of different nature. For the comprehensive review of these laws, the Election Commission has set up a committee and submitted a report to the Law Ministry.
"The commission could not take a call on these recommendations because this whole year was full of elections," he said.
Rawat said the failure of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) is not an issue. The issue is with the newly inducted machines, called Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT), introduced at the insistence of all political parties, he said.
"EVMs' failure rate has come down substantially. It is 0.3 and 0.5 per cent. Staff training for VVPAT, an electro-mechanical machine, has started recently. Failure rates are very high in some states.
"Like recently in Madhya Pradesh's Satna district, the failure rate was as high as 12 to 14 per cent. But on an average, the failure rate is around 2 per cent," he said.
Rawat said he never faced any political pressure in his 40-year career.
Asked about Opposition parties' charge that the Commission was doing what the government wants, he said: "That perception was not well founded."
"Very recently, we changed the time of a press conference for announcing the schedule by three hours because I got a call from the Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu that two constituencies are going for a bypoll. He requested me not to announce this because there was a forecast about a serious cyclonic storm.
"We postponed the conference by three hours. It was interpreted by Opposition parties that it has been done to accommodate Prime Minister's rally which was not the case," he added.