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Condemn The Arrest Of EVM Critics

By Prof. Madabhushi Sridhar

23 August, 2010

The news is that Hari Prasad, Technical Coordinator of VeTA was arrested by Maharashtra Police on August 21, 2010 morning in Hyderabad. Surprisingly, this arrest was made on charge that the EVM used for exposing EVM vulnerabilities was "stolen".The real face of the Indian electoral politics appeared with this arrest obviously at the insistence of the Election Commission of India (ECI) on flimsy charges accentuated by misuse of authority vested in police and executive. Because state can charge anybody with any charge, are they misusing that power to terrorize the persons who are blowing whistle at greatest possible fraud on electorate through EVMs? The charge does not have any basis for many reasons, such as:

Firstly, in fact the EVM supposed have been stolen was made available by a local official for research purposes.

Secondly, the intention behind is not to steal it from the owners of it for appropriation, which is obvious and open to all public and officials. In a crime basic requirement is intention. As there is no stealth lifting of EVM and that can never be transformed into a viable charge. Criminality must be rooted in malice, to fulfill the requirement of mens rea (the guilty mind) in addition to actus reus (forbidden act).

Thirdly, if EVM is stolen during elections on poling day, it could be considered for obstruction of poll which is an electoral offence. That is not the case here.

Fourthly, a very important factor that is ignored by Maharasthra police is the mandate of the Supreme Court. The petitioners VV Rao and other sought direction of the apex court to ECI and EVM makers to rule out the doubts raised by the petitioners. The petitioners were given an opportunity to demonstrate before election commission the vulnerability of EVMs to fall prey for manipulations, and in turn it was also for the ECI to prove how it could not be manipulated. When the petitioners were implementing the direction of the order of the Supreme Court how can those public interested persons become criminals?

Fifthly, the union cabinet has recently approved the protection of whistle blowers bill to be passed into legislation. This arrest is purposefully made to silence any person from raising any doubt about the frauds sponsored officially through such activities.

Sixthly, Hari Prasad or V Venkateswar Rao is not a thief and their social service and they are heading non-governmental organizations propagating better governance and right to information.

Seventhly, the makers of EVM first raised the IPR objections to somehow stop the examination of EVMs for their non-tamper-ability or vulnerability, saying that they had patent for the product. Even a person with ordinary and common sense will not raise this objection. Patent means laying everything open. The information and specifications about the innovation that is patented must be open and it should be available in public domain. In return to that openness of information, the state on behalf of society guarantees the exclusive economic benefits from the industrial application of that innovated product or tool. Who is stopping the EVM makers from having exclusive economic benefits from these great machines? And if one piece is opened and examined, there is nothing illegal about it and it is perfectly a legal requirement. Any other person can rip any innovative product open, and research to develop something better than that to secure a new patent over it. This is the national and international law. It is absurd that people raise such contentions against a public spirited and perfectly constitutional activity.

All this shows that the Election Commission of India is hesitating to take the challenge and thus indirectly confirming the suspicions raised by the V V Rao and Hari Prasad. All democratic forces should condemn the arrest and eminent lawyers to help them in getting bail and quashing the charge, and ending this most unreasonable and undemocratic reaction of Government of India along with ECI and Maharastra Police.

Professor, Madabhushi Sridhar Coordinator
NALSAR Center for Media Law and Public Policy