Skip to main content

EVM-VVPATs: Micro-controller used not OTP type as claimed by Election Commission

By Venkatesh Nayak*
All seven phases of voting to elect members of the 17th Lok Sabha have been completed. The votes will be counted on May 23, 2019. Soon after the last phase of polling ended, pollsters had a field day with their exit poll findings about the likely performance of political parties and pre-poll/post-poll alliances. So did the bulls in the stock market the next day.
Several opposition parties are expressing their misgivings about Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPATs) used in all constituencies, including elections held to the State Legislatures in Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim. They are demanding 100% verification of VVPAT slips against the votes displayed on the EVM. Once again the reliability of the machine-based voting system has become the subject of widespread debate.
However, senior members of the ruling National Democratic Alliance who authored a 200-page long book in 2010, asking if India’s democracy was at risk because of EVMs, are maintaining a studied silence this time.
I too cast my vote in the New Delhi Lok Sabha constituency and yes, the VVPAT window correctly displayed the choice I made by pressing the EVM button for a few seconds. Nevertheless, the “infallibility” claims about EVMs and VVPATs made by their manufacturers and their purchaser and deployer- the Election Commission of India (ECI), continue to be a matter of “trust”.
The ECI has repeatedly urged political parties and skeptics to trust the ability of the EVMs to faithfully record all votes cast through them and accurately display the electoral mandate on counting day.
Free and fair elections form the bed rock of our constitutionally guaranteed democracy. As vigilant citizens, it is desirable to adopt the stance: “In God we trust, everything else requires evidence”.
Given the heightened anxieties over EVMs and VVPATs, it is time to publicise some information I obtained from the ECI and the EVM+VVPAT manufacturers- Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) and Electronics Corporation of India Ltd (ECIL), recently under The Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act).

Main findings from documents obtained through the three RTI interventions

1) The micro-controllers (computer chip) embedded in the BEL-manufactured EVMs and VVPATs used in the current elections, are manufactured by NXP -- a reputable multi-billion dollar corporation based in the USA.
2) ECIL refused to disclose the identity of the manufacturer of the micro-controller used in its EVMs and VVPATs citing commercial confidence under Section 8(1)(d of the RTI Act;
3) In 2017, some segments of the media reported that Microchip Inc., USA headed by an NRI Billionaire supplied the EVM micro-controllers. Documents released under the RTI Act show, at least BEL has not used this company’s micro-controllers in the EVMs sold to ECI for use in the current elections;
4) While the ECI continues to claim that the micro-controller used in the EVMs is one-time programmable (OTP), the description of the micro-controller’s features on NXP’s website indicates that it has three kinds of memory – SRAM, FLASH and EEPROM (or E2PROM). Experts who know enough and more about micro-controllers confirm that a computer chip which includes FLASH memory cannot be called OTP;
5) The ECI has not yet made any decision on the September 2018 recommendation of the Central Information Commission (CIC) to get the competent authorities to examine whether detailed information about the firmware or source code used in the EVMs can be placed in the public domain in order to create public trust in the EVM-based voting system;
6) Despite the passage of more than five years, the ECI does not appear to have acted on the 2013 recommendation of its own Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) to make the firmware or source code embedded in the micro-controller used in EVMs transparent in order to ensure that there is no Trojan or other malware in the EVMs;
7) ECIL replied that the firmware or source code testing was done by a third party, namely, STQC- an agency under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. But the CPIO denied access to the reports on the ground that they were too voluminous. BEL denied access to this information claiming the exemption relating to commercial confidence and intellectual property rights under Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act;
8) BEL bagged a purchase order worth INR 2,678.13 crores to supply EVMs and VVPATs to ECI. ECIL, however refused to disclose this information also stating that despatch data will be supplied after the General Elections are completed; and
9) While BEL claimed that the battery powering its EVM could last 16 hours of non-stop voting with 4 Ballot Units, ECIL claimed a battery life of 2 years for its EVMs!
10) While ECIL claimed that the firmware and source code audit related information was "classified" and could not be disclosed under Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act which protects national security interests, BEL claimed commercial confidence and Intellectual Property Rights-related exemption under Section 8(1)(d) to deny access to the same information.
Click here for details of the 3 RTI Interventions.

Conclusion

Except for ECIL whose CPIO replied to the RTI application on the day I submitted a first appeal, the Election Commission and BEL had sent their RTI replies in April 2019 itself. I deliberately waited until the last phase of polling was completed to release this information to avoid accusations of using RTI-sourced information to influence the outcome of the elections.
Now that only counting and declaration of results remains to be done, nobody need point a finger about the timing of the release of all this information.
Some EVM-faithfuls might still ask- why now? The answer to that question can be found in the judgements of two Supreme Courts- one German and the other- our own.
While striking down the law permitting the use of EVMs in the elections in Germany, in 2009, the Federal Constitutional Court cited the principle of “public examinability” of all essential steps in the conduct of elections in that country which is guaranteed under the Constitution (except when other constitutional interests justify otherwise).
Although the Indian Constitution does not make a reference to the principle of “public examinability” of steps taken during elections, the Supreme Court of India implied this principle as the basis of the people’s right to know everything that the Government does in a public way almost three and a half decades before the German Constitutional Court. In the matter of State of UP vs Raj Narain [AIR 1975 SC 865]. Justice Mathew’s opinion echoed this very principle:
“74. In a government of responsibility like ours, where all the agents of the public must be responsible for their conduct, there can but few secrets. The people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything, that is done in a public way, by their public functionaries. They are entitled to know the particulars of every public transaction in all its bearing.” These RTI interventions are aimed at placing as much information as possible in the public domain about EVMs, VVPATs and other related matters which the ECI or other public authorities are reluctant to publish voluntarily. In the context of elections, perhaps voter choice- individually and at the community level, are the limited set of matters that deserve confidentiality, legally and legitimately.
All other matters must be amenable to “public examination” and facilitate informed public debate.
I would like to thank Kishore Jonnalagadda, Electronics Engineer based in Bengaluru for helping me understand the basics of the micro-controllers and their use in machines like EVMs.
---
*Programme Head, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi

Comments

TRENDING

JP advised RSS to give up Hindu Rashtra, disband itself: Ex-IAS officer tells Modi

Counterview Desk
Major MG Devasahayam IAS (Retd), chairman, People-First, in an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the occasion of Jayprakash Narain’s (JP’s) death anniversary (October 11) has wondered whether he remembers “a patriot called Jayaprakash Narayan”. Recalling what JP thought on issues such as communalism, freedom, democracy, Hindutva etc., Devasahayam says, Modi has been been doing “the very opposite of the principles and values for which JP lived and died.”

India's GDP down by 50%, not 23%, job loss 200 million not 122 million: Top economist

By Our Representative One of India’s topmost economists has estimated that India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) decline was around 50%, and not 23%, as claimed by the Government of India’s top data body, National Statistical Organization (NSO). Prof Arun Kumar, who is Malcolm S Adiseshiah chair professor, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi, said this was delivering a web policy speech, organised by the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi.

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

By Our Representative
Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book, "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

UP chief secretary, DGP have 'surrendered' to political diktat: 92 retired IAS, IPS officials

Counterview Desk
In an open letter to Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, 92 retired IAS, IFS and IPS bureaucrats, commenting on “blatant violations of the rule law” following the Hathras incident, have blamed that the Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police for abjectly failing to exercise control over a “highly compromised” administration the state.

Hathras reflects Manu's mindset dominates: 'Women are false, it's in their nature to seduce'

By Parijat Ghosh, Dibyendu Chaudhuri*
The woman died and then we woke up to protest. She was alive for two weeks after the heinous incident. Many of us even didn’t notice what had happened at Hathras, how she fought during the next 15 days. Those who noticed, many of them were not sure what actually had happened. So much so, we as a nation were more busy in finding out who among the Bollywood actresses were taking drugs, who smoked weed, who had ‘inappropriate’ or more than one relationship, what kind of private conversations they had in their chat boxes and what not!

Gujarat literati flutter: State Akademi autonomy curb a Sahitya Parishad poll issue?

By Dankesh Oza*
The 115-year-old Gujarati Sahitya Parishad is in election mode. More than 3,000 life members of the Parishad are set to elect its 52nd president and 40 plus central working committee (CWC) members, which in turn will elect its executive and two vice presidents, six secretaries and a treasurer for the coming three years (from 2021 to 2023).

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur*
Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Atrocities against Dalits: Why don't MPs, MLAs from the community ever speak up?

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*
In Gujarat, a young Dalit activist lawyer Devji Maheshwari, belonging to the Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation (BAMSCEF) was killed in Surat, allegedly by a goon who was warning him against his Facebook posts not to speak up against Brahmanism. Facts have come to light suggesting there are other issues also which led to the murder, mostly related to land disputes, many a time ignored by activists.

Delhi riots: Even British didn't accuse Bhagat Singh of reading Lenin, Jack London

By Vikash Narain Rai*
After the #BlackLifeMatters movement seriously tested the credibility of police across America, the Houston police chief Art Acevado talked of ending “lawful but awful” policing. No comparison, but in India, a citizens’ committee comprising former top judges and bureaucrats is now set to inquire into the role of the state machinery and media in handling the February 2020 Delhi violence, which followed protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), “as the investigation by the Delhi Police has evoked extensive critical commentary in recent times.”