The Central Information Commission expressed its “severe displeasure” to the Election Commission after the poll body did not respond to a Right to Information plea asking about steps taken to ensure the credibility of Electronic Voting Machines and Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail, or VVPAT, slips, reported PTI on Friday.

The Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail is a machine that prints a paper slip with the candidate’s name, serial number and the party’s symbol after a vote has been cast. To avoid election fraud, it displays the paper slip for seven seconds so that voters can check to see if their ballot was cast for their chosen candidate.

The paper slip then drops down into a locked compartment that only polling agents can access. The slips are not handed over to the voters. The collected slips can be used to audit voting data stored electronically.

On May 2, 2022, a group of eminent citizens, including professors and former bureaucrats, had sent a representation to the Election Commission asking questions about the credibility of Electronic Voting Machines and VVPATs, according to PTI.

Former Indian Administrative Service officer MG Devasahayam, who was one of the signatories to the representation, had filed an application with the poll panel under the Right to Information Act in November 2022. Devasahayam had sought details about the persons and public authorities to whom the representation was forwarded and details of any meetings held on the issue, reported PTI.

However, the Election Commission did not respond within the mandatory 30-day period. Devasahayam’s first appeal to senior officials was also not heard. The former civil servant then approached the Central Information Commission in a second appeal.

The central public information officer of the Election Commission failed to give a satisfactory reply to Chief Information Commissioner Heeralal Samariya when questioned about the poll body’s conduct in relation to Devasahayam’s plea.

“Commission, after perusal of case records and submissions made during hearing, expresses severe displeasure over the conduct of the then PIO [public information officer] in not having provided any reply to the RTI application within the time-frame stipulated under the RTI Act,” Samariya said.

The Central Information Commission has directed the concerned public information officer to furnish a written explanation for his “gross violation” of the Right to Information Act, reported PTI. The Election Commission has been asked to provide a point-wise response to the original Right to Information query within 30 days.

Several reports have pointed towards distrust among voters regarding the use of Electronic Voting Machines.

A pre-poll survey on Thursday said that 45% of the respondents believed that it was very or somewhat likely that Electronic Voting Machines could be manipulated by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

On Thursday, a group of 87 former civil servants wrote an open letter to the Election Commission, highlighting the poll panel’s “strange diffidence” in dealing with actions that impact the conduct of free and fair elections, despite the enormous powers vested in it by the Constitution to do so.

The Supreme Court on April 1 issued a notice to the Election Commission on a petition seeking that all Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail slips be tallied to verify votes cast through the Electronic Voting Machines. At present, slips from only five randomly selected polling stations in each Assembly segment are verified.

Also read: ‘Junk EVMs, bring back ballot’: Cloud of mistrust hangs over polls in western UP