India vote counting to take a day more

M Karthikeyan

New Delhi, May 7:

India has switched to all-electronic voting, but the country will probably have to wait for more than a day before the results of the general elections are retrieved from the microchip-based electronic voting machines (EVMs). The counting of votes for the staggered election between April 20 and May 10 will be taken up May 13. An official familiar with the highest levels of thinking in the Election Commission said counting of votes for the 543 contested parliamentary seats could extend well beyond May 13, belying expectations that results would be known the same day. The official said the announcement of results for all the constituencies could take time, despite the fact that there would be no manual counting of ballots.

“It can extend up to the late hours of May 14 or even the early hours of May 15,” the official said. This is because the poll panel is yet to centralise the counting process, which means each EVM would have to be individually accessed to get the results. A total of 670 million Indians are eligible to vote in the world’s biggest democratic exercise, and the average turnout in the four phases of the polls completed so far has been about 60 per cent.

The Election Commission is using a total of 1.75 million EVMs for the polls. “There is a provision for linking the EVMs to centralised computers called master counting machines (MCMs) to compile the data but it has not been tried and tested yet,” the official said.

The MCMs are used only in constituencies specially notified by the Election Commission. This was the first time that EVMs were used for the entire election process, though the first experiments with the machines were conducted as early as 1982 during the by-election to North Paravur assembly constituency in Kerala.

All the EVMs used in the general election would be dispatched to counting centres from strong rooms - where they were stored after the polling — May 13, guarded by security forces. The election rules allow only 14 EVMs to be taken up for counting at a given time, the officials said, noting that each EVM unit has a memory limit that allows only 3,840 votes for a maximum of 16 candidates. “The total number of voters in any one booth in India does not exceed 1,500,” he said. Deputy Election Commissioner AN Jha, however, said the poll panel hoped to complete the counting process by May 13 ‘in all probability’.

Candidate on a ‘god-sent mission’

New Delhi: An independent candidate MB Dhir from the capital’s South Delhi parliamentary constituency, says he is contesting elections only because god asked him to do so. “I felt this force within me,” Dhir, 72, said. “This force asked me to contest as an independent candidate from South Delhi and bring quality medical care to the population here.” The septuagenarian, who lives in the upscale Safdarjung Enclave of south Delhi, is a general surgeon and chairman of the Orthonova chain of hospitals in the area. Dhir was in the Indian Army for 26 years until his retirement in 1982. After that he started working in a private hospital but was so disturbed by corruption that he walked out. He insisted he was not hankering for power. “I am a simple man who has nothing left to gain in life. I have reached 72 and want to end the last years of my life in spirituality.” Dhir said that when he had the ‘vision’ three to four weeks ago, he felt it was his duty to bring medical care to the door-steps of the middle class. — HNS