Palghar (Maharashtra), May 29 (IANS) Two election officers, who were detected transporting VVPAT-EVMs in a private car after polling in the Palghar Lok Sabha bye-elections on Monday night, were suspended on Tuesday, officials said.
Zonal Polling officers of Booth No. 17 in Chinchani, Deepak Khot and Manohar Khande, were placed under suspension after a preliminary probe report from the Zone on the shocking lapse and flouting of protocol.
A detailed investigation report of the Assistant Returning Officer (ARO) and the local police is awaited before further action in the matter.
Confirming the incident earlier on Tuesday, Palghar Collector Prashant Narnaware told IANS that it was “a serious lapse” since, after the voting in any elections, “the EVM-VVPATs are considered sacrosanct” and cannot be moved around anywhere in such an unauthorised manner.
“As per the ECI guidelines, after voting is completed, a special bus is sent to pick up all the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail-Electronic Voting Machines (VVPAT-EVMs) from all the polling centres.
“Each bus has a specific route by which it travels, picks up the machines and takes them to the ARO office. In this case, the laid down procedures were not followed by the officers concerned,” he said.
According to available information, the concerned officials, apparently tired of waiting for the bus, called for Khot’s own private car from home.
It is not clear whether they were accompanied by any security personnel on this venture, as is the norm to ensure safety of the EVM-VVPATs, said officials.
Khot and Khande loaded a couple of EVM-VVPATs which were under their charge after the voting, placed them on the rear seat and drove off to the ARO’s office early on Tuesday to deposit them in the strongroom before the counting process is undertaken on May 31.
Official sources said that the duo was caught by some alert citizens carrying the EVM-VVPATs in the private car (MH-03-BS-0980) and stopped it near Kirat village.
On questioning, they gave vague replies following which the locals summoned the Manor police, who arrived and took charge of the matter, besides informing the collectorate and Election Commission officials.
The high-stakes bye-elections to the Palghar Lok Sabha, along with Bhandara-Gondiya, were held on Monday, amidst widespread incidents of malfunctioning EVM-VVPATs and allegations of foul play by all opposition parties and ruling ally Shiv Sena.