EVM is ‘information’ under Right to Information Act, rule Central Information Commission

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Directs Election Commission to respond to appellant who had sought one.

An Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) is “information” under the Right to Information Act, the Central Information Commission has ruled.

The Commission was hearing the appeal of an RTI applicant who had asked the Election Commission for an EVM but was denied.

Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Sudhir Bhargava ruled that “the EVM which is available with the respondent [ECI] in a material form and also as samples … is an information under the RTI Act.”

EVMs have been in the spotlight recently as several Opposition leaders have raised doubts about the credibility of the machines. They have also demanded that the ECI cross-check 50% of results with voter-verifiable paper audit trails (VVPAT) in the upcoming Lok Sabha poll.

Mr. Bhargava noted that the definition of information under Section 2(f) of the RTI Act includes “any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form…”

The CIC upheld applicant Razaak K. Haidar’s contention that the terms “models” and “samples” should apply to an EVM.

ECI Under-Secretary Soumyajit Ghosh admitted that “models/samples of EVM are available with the ECI, but the same are only kept for training purpose by the ECI, and not saleable to the general public.”

Fresh argument

Mr. Ghosh also argued that the information was exempted from disclosure under Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act as “the software installed in the machines is an intellectual property of a third party, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of the third party concerned.”

Mr. Bhargava noted this fresh argument, but did not rule on it. Instead, he directed the ECI to file an appropriate response to the appellant within four weeks, as it had erroneously denied the information sought, using Section 6(1) of the RTI Act, which does not deal with grounds for exemption.

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