By bappaditya paul
The shortage of Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) has cast a shadow on the holding of by-elections to the six vacant Assembly seats in West Bengal simultaneously with the coming Lok Sabha poll. Santipur and Chakdah in Nadia, Kumargram and Maynaguri in Jalpaiguri, Kotulpur in Bankura and Galsi in Burdwan are the six Assembly seats in the state that fell vacant recently.
The vacancies mostly came up due to the party-switch by sitting MLAs; in case of Chakdah it was because of the sudden death of the sitting Trinamul MLA. The state Assembly last week notified all the six vacancies thus paving way for the conduct of by-elections in these seats along with the Lok Sabha polls.
But sources in the office of the West Bengal state Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) said that holding the by-polls simultaneously with the Lok Sabha elections may not be possible due to the shortage of EVMs.
“We have about 1-lakh EVMs that just meet our requirement for conducting the Lok Sabha poll in 77,241 polling stations that are there in the state. To conduct by-polls in the six Assembly seats, there is a need for around 2,400 additional EVMs that we are unable to manage on our own,” said a senior official in the CEO’s office. The CEO’s office has written to the Election Commission (EC) pointing out the matter so that the poll panel has all practical issues in mind while announcing the poll schedule. The communique has also pointed out that around 1,800 EVMs in the state are lying locked due to ongoing court cases filed by losing candidates in connection with the 2004 Lok Sabha polls for Nabadwip seat and the 2006 Assembly poll for Baduria constituency.
“These EVMs could have otherwise come handy for the by-polls now. Given the circumstances, we shall have no problem in holding a simultaneous Assembly by-polls only if the EC can facilitate us the additional EVMs from somewhere else,” the officer added.
The Bengal CEO’s office, however, is aware that getting the additional 2,400-odd EVMs from other states will not be an easy task. This is because the Lok Sabha polls are to be held throughout the country over a fixed period of time. “There is a 45-day locking period before which an EVM used in an election cannot be reused for another poll. Hence, even though the Lok Sabha polls will be held in the country in phases, every state must have its own adequate stock as there is no scope for multiple use of one EVM,” said an EC official.
Besides this, keeping in mind the malfunctioning of EVMs, maintaining an EVM reserve of 20-25 per cent over the actual number of polling stations is a must. Going by this, the actual requirement for one polling station ranges between 1.4 to 1.5 EVMs.
“The only way out is if the EC can make any other state, where the EVM reserve is a little higher, to release some EVMs for West Bengal,” the official concluded.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 5 March 2014.)