The Times of India

The Supreme Court verdict allowing citizens to exercise 'none of the above' (NOTA) option on the EVMs has thrown a major challenge to two public sector undertakings -- Bengaluru-based Bharat Electronics Limited and Hyderabad-based Electronics Corporation of India Limited -- engaged in the manufacturing of the machines.

Officials at BEL said that there would not be any major change in the hardware of the EVM's ballot unit and a machine can be double up with the designated option of 'none of the above' but large-scale modification will take time. "We will have to work round the clock, if the Election Commission decides to implement the option in forthcoming assembly elections in November," said a senior BEL official.

On the other hand, an official of the ECIL, when contacted, said that at present the facility did not exist, and a significant R&D is needed to ascertain the exact requirement.

The EVMs were designed by the EC in collaboration with the two PSUs after a series of meetings, test-checking of the prototypes and extensive field trials. Now implementation of the new provision would mean an exhaustive ground work to develop software and its incorporation in the hardware, manufacturing, training of personnel and publicity among masses.

Activists feel that implementation of the provision might be tough but it will be a game-changer in India's evolving democracy.

For example, as many as 5,364 voters across UP did not vote under section 49(O) of the Representation of People Act in the 2012 assembly elections as they felt that the candidates in the fray were not fit enough to be their representative. According to activists, the figure was only a fraction of the people who wanted to use the rule but could not do so because of the tedious process and out of fear of being identified as the rule did not guarantee secrecy. Besides, at many polling stations returning officers had no clue about the said rule. They even tried to convince people, saying that opting out would waste the vote. As a result, many preferred to stay home.

"Under section 49(O), a voter who after coming to a polling booth does not want to cast his vote, has to inform the presiding officer of his intention not to vote, who in turn would make an entry in the relevant rule book after taking the signature of the said elector. The process violates constitutional right of freedom of speech and expression as well as the concept of secret ballot," said Mahipal Singh of PUCL. "But now when the right to reject will become an easy option for people, the number of people exercising it would increase tremendously," he added.

The SC verdict will not only increase the voting percentage but also deter criminals from contesting elections and dent the caste and communal politics. As people will have an option to communicate that they don't like any of the candidate, political parties will be under pressure to field 'clean and acceptable' candidates" said Magsaysay awardee Sandeep Pandey.

A volunteer of NAPM, Bobby Ramakant, who ran a campaign on use of 49 (O), said, "The right to reject will benefit urban voters in a big way, as their education levels are higher than those living in the rural areas. However, if made aware of the provision properly, even the rural voters would not hesitate in exercising this option."

Incharge of Association of Democratic Reforms in UP, Sanjay Singh, said, "In case, the elections are cancelled owing to the fact that more then 50% of voters have exercised the none of the above options, efforts should be made to debar such candidates, who were rejected by the voters.

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