Mumbai: Amid Opposition’s allegations that nearly 25 per cent EVMs being used in the bypoll in the Bhandara-Gondiya parliamentary constituency on Monday were malfunctioning, the Election Commission said all defective machines have been replaced and polling has resumed.
Election Commission (EC) officer in-charge Abhimanyu Kale told the media that around 156 Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) or Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) were replaced or spares deployed.
Dismissing Assistant EC officer Anant Walaskar’s earlier statement that after complaints were received from 64 polling stations, voting was cancelled in 35, Kale said, “Nobody has the authority to decide this except the EC and no such orders have been issued.”
Walaskar had told the media in the morning that voting has been stopped in 35 polling stations and would be conducted at a later date owing to serious glitches in the EVMs.
The EVMs malfunctioned in polling booths at Khapa, Mandhal, Hingna and Kharbi in Bhandara-Gondiya, besides Tarapur, Shelvali, Kamare, Satpati, Maikhop, Dhuktan, Chinchan and other polling stations in Palghar.
Senior Nationalist Congress Party leader Praful Patel alleged that “nearly 25 per cent of all the EVMs in Bhandara-Gondiya are defective or malfunctioning”.
“I have come to know that around 60 machines are defective in each Assembly segment of this Lok Sabha constituency. The EC must take serious note of this. What is the security of the votes that have already been case in the malfunctioning EVMs?” Patel told media persons.
Hundreds of voters patiently waited to cast their votes in the blistering heat as the EVMs were replaced.
However, the defective machines hit polling severely, with barely 25 per cent of the electorate casting their votes by 2 p.m. in both constituencies.
Ruling ally Shiv Sena leaders also strongly criticized the EC and the government for the glitches and claimed that these were reported mostly from the party’s strongholds.
Sena MP Sanjay Raut said the glitch is nothing but a manifestation of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ recent controversial statement on ‘Saam, Daam, Dand, Bhed’.
“The EC is under pressures not to even register complaints… the defective machines are mostly in the Sena strongholds,” he said.
Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) President Prakash Ambedkar demanded cancellation of the elections in Bhandara-Gondiya.
“I have received reports of problems in some 450 polling stations. It’s clear that the EVMs have been tampered as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is losing the elections. The entire elections must be cancelled and held afresh,” said Ambedkar, the grandson of Dalit leader B.R. Ambedkar.
Congress state spokesperson Sachin Sawant alleged large-scale irregularities as the BJP was attempting to make the Lok Sabha bypolls ‘My-polls’ in Palghar and Bhandara-Gondiya.
All the opposition parties demanded that since the voting process was halted upto several hours in some areas, the voting timings should be extended to enable the people to cast their votes.
Both elections are prestigious for the state’s ruling BJP, which faces the NCP in Bhandara-Gondiya and its own ally Shiv Sena in Palghar.
The bypoll in Bhandara-Gondiya was necessitated after sitting BJP member Nana Patole quit the party in December 2017 and later joined the Congress. BJP’s Hemant Patle, who was earlier in the Shiv Sena, faces NCP’s Madhukar Kukde, who is supported by the Congress, while there are 18 others in the fray.
In Palghar, the bypoll came after sitting MP Chintaman Vanga died. However his son joined the Shiv Sena and was given party ticket. The BJP has fielded former Congress leader Rajendra Gavit, while the Congress has put up Damodar Shingda.