BPP Elections

In a call for transparency, Bombay High Court appoints Election Commissioners to take over BPP Elections

Last week’s headlines in Kersi Randeria’s Parsi Times newspaper dated 2nd April read ‘BPP Wins the Battle of the Ballot’. In stark contradiction and humility, the article issued by the Petitioners (Sethna, Kapadia and Dhatigara) in Jame-Jamshed of 3rd April read ‘BPP Did Not Win Battle Of The Ballot – The Community Did!’.

The community will recall that at the last October 2015 elections, no candidate or his polling or counting agent was allowed to be present in the polling booth area and the locking and unlocking of EVMs and counting of votes was done in complete secrecy leading to charges of rigging and manipulation of votes through EVMs including from the four highly decorated armed forces candidates.

To avoid such a repetition, two candidates along with two activists moved the High Court on 31st March 2016 to frame rules for EVM conducted elections and also other provisions under the Scheme of Elections. The Court by its Order of 31ST March 2016 allowed the candidates or their representative to remain present in the polling hall during polling hours at each of the 5 voting centres and also allowed them to remain present in the EVM room when the EVM machines are locked and unlocked and when the votes are counted.  After issuing the article in the Parsi Times of 2nd April 2016, the ‘Victorious Trustees’ themselves thereafter shockingly again moved the Bombay High Court on 4th April 2016 to get the above order amended by wishing to exclude all candidates or their representatives from “the areas where the registration of voters takes place and where the EVMs are located”. In essence this meant that no candidate or their representative would be present at the time of locking or unlocking the EVMs, throwing doubt over the integrity of the election process. In return the Trustees were willing to accept the Petitioners earlier prayer to appoint five Election Commissioners to oversee the entire election process so as to ensure the election was conducted in a fair and transparent manner. At the time of arguments on 31st March, the Petitioners did not push for this prayer as they did not think it was necessary for Court Appointed Election Commissioners as the parties could have solved the issues between themselves.

The four Trustees, managed by Kersi Randieria moved the High Court requesting for the Court appointment of 5 Election Commissioners to keep the candidates out of the polling and counting hall thereby finally acknowledging the petitioner’s case that the current Scheme of Elections and process of voting under EVMs was flawed without any Rules framed for its conduct and hence the Trustees needed the guidance of the court to draft Rules for EVMs.

On 7th April after deliberation both the parties through the Court’s mediation finally agreed that all locking and unlocking of EVMs and counting of votes from each EVM machine prior to its connection into any computer shall be conducted by the Court Appointed Election Commissioner in the presence of the candidate or their representative who shall be at a 4 feet distance. This was the very essence of transparency the Petitioners had sought for in the very first place.

When the Trustees (barring Viraf Mehta and Armaity Tirandaz) had opposed this request of transparency in these elections it brought a shadow of doubt over the entire election process. This however has now been rectified by the Trustees conceding that the locking of EVMs, unlocking of EVMs and counting of votes from each EVM machine at each election centre shall be conducted by the Court appointed Election Commissioner in the presence of the candidate or their representative. Rest of the contentions in the application have been left open by the court for deliberation for future elections after the 10th April elections.

This is a great victory for the community at large since it brings to light the fact that the October 2015 election was not conducted in a fair and transparent manner. Hopefully the Trustees will now attempt to understand the problems faced by its beneficiaries at a grass root level and stop wasting charity funds on  senseless litigations

The main points of the minutes submitted by the parties to the court state:

  •  When the EVMs are locked, the Court Commissioner shall announce to the candidates or their representatives that the vote count on each EVM has been set to zero.
  • When the EVMs are unlocked and votes are counted, the Court Commissioner at each center shall announce to the candidates or their representatives the number of votes recorded against each candidate in each EVM one at a time before the results are transmitted electronically to the computer in each centre and thereafter to the central system. Each Court Commissioner shall, in addition to the signatures of (i) the Deloitte representative,(ii) the Election President (or his representative) and (iii) the Technology Officer (or his representative); sign the consolidated result of each Election Centre. The results will be put in an envelope which would be sealed and signed by the aforesaid persons. All the aforesaid sealed envelopes shall be taken by the respective Court Commissioners to the Election Centre at Dadar Parsi Colony and the envelopes shall be opened at the said Dadar Parsi Colony Election Centre in the presence of each of the candidate or his one representative as also in the presence of the Election President and the representative of Deloitte. Based on the results received from each centre the consolidated statement of the result of the election will be prepared and announced by any one of the Court Commissioners.”