Was EC Arun Goel doubtful about efficacy of EVMs, asks EAS Sarma to President

Sarma writes in his open letter to the President, “In my view, the abrupt and somewhat inexplicable exit of Shri Goel raises the following questions.” He has listed 7 questions.
Election Commissioner Arun Goel who resigned recently
Election Commissioner Arun Goel who resigned recently
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Expressing concerns over the integrity of the Election Commission of India (ECI), former IAS officer EAS Sarma has sought the immediate intervention of President Droupadi Murmu to uphold the sanctity of the electoral process. Accusing the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of vitiating the integrity of the electoral process and tilting the level-playing field in its favour, Sarma, who has served as the Secretary to the Government of India in the Ministries of Power and Finance questioned the sudden exit of Arun Goel as the Election Commissioner. 

Sarma writes in his open letter to the President, “In my view, the abrupt and somewhat inexplicable exit of Shri Goel raises the following questions:

1. Did Shri Goel express his dissent on the way the political executive has been trying to interfere with the electoral process in several ways vitiating its sanctity?

2. Did Shri Goel express doubts about the efficacy of the use of EVMs?

3. Did he express his concern at the way the political executive has pressured the SBI not to disclose the details of the EBS?

4. Was there any proposal from Shri Goel to freeze the residual amounts received by the political parties under the EBS to prevent their use in the ensuing elections?

5. Did Shri Goel propose that BJP's nominees from the Boards of BEL, ECIL and SBI be withdrawn to maintain the sanctity of the electoral process?

6. Did Shri Goel express his dissent on any other matter that would have displeased the political executive?

7. Did the highest within the political executive force Shri Goel to tender his resignation to clear the way for the ruling party's machinations?

Arun Goel resigned on March 9, just a few days before the announcement of the Lok Sabha election and has further dented the credibility of the ECI. Alleging lack of transparency in the ECI, the Opposition party leaders have expressed doubts over whether the elections will be held in a free and fair manner.

Sarma in a previous letter to the President had said that the ruling party has disempowered the ECI as part of its “well-orchestrated strategy.” 

“By planting BJP’s representatives in the Boards of Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) and Electronics Corporation of India Ltd (ECIL) which manufacture and supply Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) systems and are privy to the source code embedded in the EVM systems, the political executive has ensured that BEL’s and ECIL’s affairs are managed subject to BJP’s oversight,” Sarma said. 

Pointing out that the ECI has deliberately ignored the concerns expressed by many regarding the flaws of the EVMs providing a scope for manipulation, he said, “Despite experts’ pointing out that there are segments in the EVM systems that lend themselves to manipulation, the Commission has chosen to ignore those concerns, perhaps reluctant to go against the political executive’s views.” 

He added, “To give itself an undue advantage in receiving private corporate donations, the ruling political executive has introduced multiple statutory amendments to allow the corporates to give unlimited donations, allow even foreign agencies to give political donations and ensure total anonymity of donors by introducing a highly contentious Electoral Bonds Scheme (EBS) operated by the State Bank of India (SBI). To ensure that the SBI functions subject to oversight by the BJP, the political executive has additionally planted at least one representative of the BJP on SBI’s Board.” 

In a landmark judgement last month, the Supreme Court declared the Electoral Bonds Scheme as “unconstitutional”, and had directed the SBI to make a public disclosure of the donors and party’s sources of funding. However, the SBI has sought extension until July 30, to provide the details of the electoral bonds. Essentially, the SBI agreed to comply with the orders only after the Lok Sabha elections.

“When the Supreme Court held the EBS to be violative of the Constitution and directed the SBI to make a public disclosure forthwith of the details of the EBS including the details of the donors and sources of funding, instead of allowing the SBI to comply with the apex court’s stipulation, the political executive has evidently pressured the SBI to delay the disclosure till the end of June by which time the elections will be over,” Sarma said. 

Sarma highlighted eight major concerns regarding the BJP gaining full control over the ECI and undermining the elections. This included the opaqueness in selecting the candidates to be appointed as Election Commissioners. 

“The apex court of India held categorically that the existing procedure of selection of candidates to be appointed as Election Commissioners is not transparent and objective. The court asked the government to enact a law that provides for a selection committee with the Chief Justice as a member and bring in other changes to ensure that the ECI is adequately empowered to function as an independent authority under Article 324 of the Constitution. Instead of complying with that advice, evidently to keep the Commission under its thumb, the present government at the Centre deviated from those norms by getting a legislation hurriedly passed by the Parliament to enable the ruling political party at the Centre to have total control over the Commission,” the former IAS officer alleged. 

Read: ‘Systemic decimation’: Opposition leaders raise suspicion over Arun Goel’s resignation 

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