No Election Commission in the past has been as reluctant as the present one in discharging its duties despite getting several complaints regarding poll code violations, said a group of 102 former civil servants in an open letter on Saturday.

“To retain the faith of the ordinary citizen in constitutional institutions vested with the onerous responsibility of the free and fair conduct of elections, it is necessary that these institutions must not only be fair but also appear to be fair,” read the letter.

It pointed out, however, that concerns have been raised at several instances about the fairness of the elections during the ongoing Lok Sabha polls.

The former bureaucrats pointed out that the fears range from the possibility of Electronic Voting machines and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail machines being tampered with, to voter suppression.

A Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail is a machine that prints a paper slip of the candidate’s name, serial number and the party’s symbol after people have cast their vote. To avoid election fraud, it displays the paper slip for seven seconds for people to check if their vote has been cast correctly.

In April, the Supreme Court rejected all pleas seeking the tallying of all Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail slips to verify votes cast through Electronic Voting Machines.

The letter by the former bureaucrats also pointed out that there have been instances of single persons unlawfully voting on behalf of many voters.

On May 19, a Bharatiya Janata Party worker’s son was arrested after a video showing the teenager purportedly voting for the saffron party eight times in Uttar Pradesh’s Farrukhabad Lok Sabha constituency went viral.

The letter also said that many people, especially vulnerable groups, were finding their names missing from the voters’ lists.

In Mathura, Muslim voters had said that they could not vote when the constituency went to polls on April 26 due to several reasons: the poor distribution of voter slips, missing or misspelt names in the electoral roll at the polling station, and hurdles in getting voter IDs issued.

The bureaucrats said that “little visible action against hate speech” targeting both minorities and the Opposition by senior leaders of the BJP has left them concerned about the fairness of the elections.

“It would have been fitting for the Election Commission to publicly explain actions taken, and not taken, by the Commission to address these problems and allay the fears of the electorate,” it said. “They should still do this without further delay and in a transparent manner.”

The former civil servants said that in the run-up to the counting of votes, due on June 4, immense care is required for the safe custody of the Electronic Voting Machines in ways that involve all the competing candidates and parties.

“Returning officers need to commit themselves to announcing the results of the counting of votes in every case without any delay,” read the letter.

It said that in case of a hung parliament, “onerous responsibilities” will be placed upon President Droupadi Murmu

“We are sure that she will follow the established democratic precedent of first inviting the pre-poll alliance that garnered the largest number of seats,” said the former bureaucrats. “Also, that she would endeavour to preempt the possibilities of horse-trading.”

Voting for the sixth phase of the Lok Sabha elections was held on Saturday. The final phase of voting is due on June 1.

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