Tk 642cr EVMs unusable for a lack of upkeep

electoral irregularities

At least 27,900 EVMs worth around Tk 642 crore have become unusable for a lack of proper storage facility and maintenance, show Election Commission documents.

The control units, monitors, batteries and cables of most of these Electronic Voting Machines are now non-functional as those were carelessly staked up either at field-level election offices or schoolrooms, several EC officials have told The Daily Star.

The EC has so far bought 1.5 lakh EVMs in phases since 2018 for using those in different elections. Each EVM cost Tk 2.35 lakh, which was almost 11 times the price of the machine in India.

EC officials said another 45,500 EVMs, stored in cardboard boxes at different places, are at risk of damage from dampness, which might also become unsuitable for use in the upcoming polls.

A presentation made at an internal workshop of the EC early this month showed that 93,000 EVMs are stored at EC's field offices and schoolrooms at district and upazila levels across the country.

"Information from the EC offices shows that 30 percent of these machines are unusable at this moment," it said.

"The lifespan of EVMs is diminishing due to a lack of upkeep. A significant number of machines has been damaged. Even parts of some of the machines are missing," said the presentation, a copy of which has been obtained by this newspaper.

Another presentation at the same programme said that of the 1.5 lakh machines, 93,000 are stored at EC's field offices and schools; 54,500 at Bangladesh Machine Tools Factory (BMTF); and 2,500 at the EC office's basement in the capital's Agargaon.

Asked, EVM Project Director Syed Raquibul Hasan admitted that there was no proper storage facility for preserving the EVMs.

"In many cases, monitors were broken and cables, finger-matching components and ballot unit buttons were damaged. The machines were kept in damp places."

He, however, claimed all these machines are repairable, adding that they come with five-year service warranty and one-year parts warranty.

"We have already sent 10,000 EVMs to the BMTF for checking."

Raquibul further said that if these machines could be fixed, they would be used in the upcoming polls.

Many EC officials blamed the absence of EVM storage guidelines for the damage of the machines.

In India, there is a manual on EVM storage. It says the storage site should be free from dampness, pests, rodents, water-logging and leakage. And it should have proper ventilation.

During non-election period, storage of EVMs should be in treasury, district headquarters or local levels. It should have foolproof security and fire safety measures, according to the Indian Election Commission's website.

Raquibul said they already proposed setting up 10 warehouses in 10 regions for proper preservation of EVMs, with foolproof security, firefighting equipment and temperature control under a Tk 8,711cr project.

Each warehouse will have space for around 45,000 EVMs.

The EC drafted the project proposal for buying another two lakh EVMs and sent it to the Planning Commission for approval.

The move to buy the additional EVMs follows the EC's decision on August 23 to use the devices in up to 150 constituencies in the next national election despite major opposition parties' objection.

According to the minutes of the election commissioners' meeting on August 23, the commission had 1.3 lakh usable EVMs, which could be used in polls to 70-80 constituencies.