Challenges and uncertainty surrounding EVM project in Bangladesh

EVM, Electronic Voting Machine

The much-discussed Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) scheme is set to conclude this June, as the government has decided not to extend it further. This decision comes amidst ongoing debates in the political arena and considering the prevailing economic situation. The government has conveyed its message to the Election Commission, stating its intent not to allocate funds for the purchase of new machines or the maintenance and repair of existing ones. Consequently, the Election Commission, acknowledging the government’s stance, has shifted its focus towards the process of disposing of the redundant EVM machines. Overall, according to reliable sources, the EVM era in Bangladesh’s electoral system is drawing to a close.

According to various government sources, approximately 350 projects across different ministries and organizations are approaching their expiration dates. However, the government is inclined against extending the duration of these projects due to multiple reasons. The Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) project is among those listed projects.

Hence, there is a high likelihood that this project will cease to exist after its stipulated period, possibly in June. Consequently, the Commission has been made aware of this development. As a result, officials involved are now more focused on the process of disposing of redundant EVMs rather than seeking extensions or funding. If the government opts not to extend the project duration, the initiative to dispose of the EVMs under the possession of the Election Commission may involve burning and destruction after June.

Election Commission Additional Secretary Ashok Kumar Debnath informed the media, stating, “The duration of the EVM project is concluding next June. In the absence of financial provisions thereafter, the EVMs are to be destroyed and disposed of. We will now dispatch a letter to the government, requesting a decision on this matter.”

It’s well-documented that the Election Commission has long grappled with issues concerning the repair and maintenance of EVM machines. Out of the 150,000 EVMs procured at a significant expense five years ago, only 40,000 machines remain operational. Investigations into the Bangladesh Machine Tools Factory (BMTF) and the EC, responsible for manufacturing EVMs, reveal numerous instances of EVMs being broken and damaged. Many machines have accumulated water and mud, while the absence of secured connecting cables is prevalent.

Despite being designed for a 10-year lifespan, these machines are malfunctioning after just five years. The neglect of EVMs is evident, exacerbated by the lack of provisions for repairs and maintenance. Consequently, many EVMs, purchased at a cost of approximately Rs 4000 crore, have now become obsolete. Despite repeated pleas to remove EVMs stored in various locations without incurring godown rent, the Commission remains unresponsive. Field officials find themselves in a challenging position, often entangled in disputes over pollution with various organizations while addressing this issue.

Officials from the Election Commission have noted a decline in the demand for Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) since their introduction. Many political parties have consistently opposed the use of EVMs since their inception. Initially, during the twelfth national election, there were plans to fully implement EVMs in 150 seats, later reduced to 70 to 80 seats. However, due to political opposition and insufficient EVM availability, the commission ultimately abandoned this decision.

In the national elections held on January 7, no constituencies utilized EVMs for voting. Although paper ballots were used in the National Assembly elections, EVMs were employed in the general by-elections in Mymensingh City and Comilla City on March 9. Subsequently, on May 8, the EC announced that only 22 out of the 152 upazila elections in the first phase would incorporate EVMs for voting. The declining interest in EVMs and the lack of operational machines are contributing factors to their diminishing usage. In light of these circumstances, the commission itself harbors doubts about the future viability of EVMs.

Despite the KM Nurul Huda Commission’s purchase of 150,000 EVMs prior to the 11th Parliament elections, no measures were implemented to preserve them. In preparation for the twelfth national elections, the government halted the Rs 8,711 crore scheme initiated by the Election Commission to procure new EVMs and maintain the existing ones. Consequently, the Awal Commission faced immense pressure to maintain the old EVMs in working condition.

In an attempt to address this issue, the commission issued a demand letter requesting an additional Rs 1,259 crore 90 lakh to activate the EVMs purchased in the previous project worth Rs 3,825 crore just five years ago. Following the submission of these letters seeking funds for EVM repairs, the Election Commission Secretariat held numerous meetings with the Ministry of Finance. However, the company expressed profound disappointment at the lack of a positive response during these meetings. Recently, an initiative has been undertaken to correspond with the government once again to determine the future of EVMs. This letter will be submitted to the Cabinet Department to seek a decision from the Cabinet Committee on Government Procurement.

Since their introduction in 2010, Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) were primarily utilized in local elections. The ATM Shamsul Huda Commission employed EVMs extensively in City Corporation elections but faced challenges in implementing them in parliamentary elections. In 2012, under the leadership of Kazi Raqibuddin Ahmad, the EC rendered the existing EVMs largely obsolete, leading to setbacks in their usage even in city elections. Subsequently, the KM Nurul Huda Commission initiated the procurement of new EVMs. A project was approved to purchase 150,000 EVMs at a cost of 3,825 crore 24 lakhs. Through legal amendments, EVMs were introduced in six parliamentary constituencies during the 11th parliamentary elections of 2018. Following this, approximately 1,400 elections were conducted using EVMs, including Parliament by-elections and general and by-elections for local government bodies.

According to officials from the Election Commission (EC), the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) project is currently facing a crisis marked by mismanagement in storage, a substantial number of unusable parts, and the unavailability of required allocations or uncertainty surrounding their acquisition.

EVM project director Colonel Syed Rakibul Hasan stated, “There is a financial crisis in the ongoing activities of the project, including the maintenance of EVM machines and the repair of unusable ones. There is no provision of funds for the repair of these devices.”

In this regard, Election Commissioner Alamgir stated, “The current EVM project is nearing its conclusion. If new allocations are not provided by the government, this project will need to be terminated by next June. Subsequently, the existing EVMs will be permanently disabled or removed in accordance with government regulations. At this juncture, the voting for upazila elections can be completed with the operational EVMs we currently possess. However, if funding is not secured, this modern technology-enabled vote management will cease following the local government elections”.


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