The VVPAT machines, that leave a paper trail of votes cast at EVMs, will be used in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Photo: Javeed Shah/ Mint

In a bid to increase transparency in the electoral process, the Union cabinet cleared a proposal to procure 1,615,000 voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) machines by September 2018. These are the advanced versions of the currently used EVMs. Estimated to cost Rs. 3,173 crore, it will also ensure VVPAT units are used in all the polling booths in the next general elections in 2019.

Immediately it nixes the growing controversy after allegations of tampering of electronic voting machines (EVMs) were levelled by several political parties, including the Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), after the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won massive victories in the Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh elections last month.

“A voter has a right to know whether his vote has been correctly registered or not. VVPAT machines in many phases and in small numbers were ordered earlier in 2013 and 2015 as well. The estimate of the Election Commission is that approximately 16 lakh machines are required. The entire procurement will be supplied by September 2018. If by September 2018, machines are procured then elections conducted after that time will have a paper trail,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said while addressing a press conference after the cabinet meeting.

To prove that a correct vote has been recorded, the VVPAT machine dispenses a paper slip with details of the party for whom the voter cast their vote. The slip has the name, serial number and symbol of the candidate and is displayed through a screened window for seven seconds. The slip then gets cut and is dropped in a sealed box.

“The decision of the government would enable the Election Commission of India to deploy VVPAT units in all polling booths in the general elections, 2019, which will act as an additional layer of transparency for the satisfaction of voters, allaying any apprehension in the minds of the voters as to the fidelity and integrity of the EVMs,” an official statement said.

In 2013, the Supreme Court had asked the EC to generate a printed record to ensure confidence of voters in the EVMs. Last year, chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking funds for the new process. In the 2014 general election, there were a total of 9,28,237 polling stations across the country – around 12% more than the 15th general election in 2009.

“The Commission shall closely monitor the production of VVPATs for timely delivery well before general elections in 2019. With this, the Commission will ensure the total compliance of the orders of Supreme Court and its commitment to use VVPATs with every EVM at all polling stations in the country in general elections 2019,” the EC said in a statement.

“It is a good step and will definitely enhance transparency. There has been a demand from political parties for quite sometime and the process was essentially delayed due to the lack of funds. The recent assembly election results have also helped to speed up the process,” said Maj Gen (retd.) Anil Verma, head of the New Delhi-based Association for Democratic Reforms think tank.