Ex govt secretary opposes BJP nominees in board of BEL, the company behind EVM tech

EAS Sarma, former secretary to the Government of India, has written to the Election Commission of India urging them to remove the directors affiliated to the BJP from the Bharat Electronics Limited board.
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Alleging a conflict of interest, EAS Sarma, former secretary to the Government of India, has written to the Election Commission of India (ECI) urging them to remove the directors affiliated to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from the Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) board. 

The Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) used in elections are indigenously made in the country by BEL and the Electronics Corporation of India Ltd. under the guidance of the ECI’s technical expert committee. Sarma said he had brought the Commission’s attention to how at least four BJP nominees have been selected for the post of “independent board of directors” for BEL, which develops the software for EVMs. 

His letter reads, “This implies that the BJP, as a political party has an important role in running the affairs of the BEL, which leads one to the inevitable inference that the BJP continues to supervise the functioning of the BEL, a Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSE) which is closely engaged in the manufacture and supply of the EVMs, including development of the "secret" encrypted source code embedded in the chips that form the core of the EVMs. Despite my bringing this disturbing fact to ECI's attention quite some time ago, I find that the ECI, for reasons best known to it, has deliberately chosen not to act, suggesting that the Commission remains unconcerned about the level playing ground in elections being brazenly tilted in favour of the ruling BJP!” 

Sarma further said that the Companies Act mandates that an independent Director should play a pivotal role in managing the affairs of the company. At least four of the total seven independent directors– Mansukhbhai Shamjibhai Khachariya, Dr Shivnath Yadav, Shyama Singh, and PV Parthasarathi– are linked to the BJP party. 

Khachariya holds the post of BJP president in the Rajkot district, while Shivnath Yadav was the former Uttar Pradesh BJP vice president. Shyama Singh has worked as vice president of the BJP in Bihar, and PV Parthasarathi is the national secretary of the BJP’s OBC Morcha. Parthasarathi has also served as the Andhra Pradesh BJP vice president and was the Assembly in-charge for the byelection to the Tirupati Lok Sabha seat.

“While I have no intention to question the credentials of Shri Khanchariya in any manner, does not the Commission find it highly objectionable for an important office bearer of the BJP to be nominated to the BEL's Board as an 'independent ' Director? In addition to Shri Khanchariya, there are at least three other "independent" Directors of BEL who have an affiliation with the BJP,” Sarma further said in his letter. 

Sarma also stated that the ECI has failed to address the questions raised against EVMs. “The ECI has gone to the other extreme of obstinately defending it, literally deifying it, closing its eyes to the harsh reality that many countries have stopped using the EVMs and there have been instances of malfunctioning of the EVMs in our instance. The Commission has compounded the public concern by refusing to cross-verify the EVM count of votes vis-a-vis the paper ballots. The Commission, by its own admission, is using the EVMs without totalisers, which precludes the mixing of ballots among different booths in a constituency, violating the mandatory requirement of secrecy of booth-level voting,” he added.

Recently, Congress leader Digvijaya Singh had alleged that EVM machines and Voter-verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) were prone to manipulation. According to reports, he carried out a demo of how EVMs could be tampered with, with the help of a technical expert Atul Patel. Patel cast two votes for one symbol watermelon to show the malfunctioning of the machine. Despite pressing the watermelon button on the machine, the VVPAT slip carried the apple symbol. 

The ECI had reportedly refuted these allegations and claimed that EVM is not controlled by a computer and is not connected to any other network, which prevents it from being hacked.

Sarma concluded his letter by stating that the Commission if it has any respect for its own role under Article 324 of the Indian Constitution, should come clean. “Authorities concerned should revoke the directorship of party-affiliated persons from BEL's Board and place the details of the action taken by it in the public domain for the people of this country to see,” he added.

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