The Central Information Commission (CIC) has ordered the disclosure of the total number of EVMs and VVPATs that showed defects and errors during testing and evaluation of their firmware by the Standardization, Testing and Quality Certification (STQC) Directorate.
The ruling of the CIC came on a petition of activist Venkatesh Nayak, who had approached the STQC Directorate under the Ministry of Electronics and IT, seeking information related to audit and testing of firmware of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) of M3 and M2 generation and Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) units manufactured by ECIL and BEL, and used in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
He had also sought to know the total number of M3 and M2 EVMs and VVPATs whose firmware were tested and evaluated by the STQC team, the total number of machines whose software was found not to be a perfect match with the reference software provided by ECIL and BEL for the purpose of testing and evaluation, and the number of machines that revealed other kinds of defects or errors during the testing and evaluation of firmware.
The information was denied to him citing section 8 (1)(d) of the RTI Act which allows exemption of information pertaining to commercial confidence from disclosure.
On the question of total number of machines that were tested and those which showed defects, Information Commissioner Vanaja N Sarna held the plea of Nayak “justified”, calling it “statistical information” which can be given and “there is no exemption applicable in disclosing the numbers”.
In addition, Mr Nayak had also asked for the details of officers of the STQC, a third-party independent audit agency, who did the audit, its dates and geographical locations where it was conducted among other details.
The commission allowed the STQC to withhold names and designations of auditing officers, but asked it to disclose dates and geographical locations of the audit done by it.
“…the dates are eminently disclosable and can be given to the appellant. In respect of point no. 3, the geographical locations without specifying further details can be given. During the hearing, the CPIO stated that the testing was done at various locations including at BEL and ECIL. The specific locations can therefore be provided,” she said.
Mr Nayak had said his RTI application was aimed at obtaining information to ascertain the role and duties and the performance of such duties by the public authority while carrying out third-party audits of the software or firmware embedded in the EVMs and the VVPATs in compliance with the recommendations of the TEC constituted by the Election Commission.
The issue of EVMs in an election is hotly contested among political parties and sections of people.