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India’s EC mulls new-age EVMs to help 300mn plus internal migrants and NRIs to vote

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BY S VENKAT NARAYAN,

Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, December 26: The Election Commission of India (ECI) is examining an ambitious plan to allow internal migrants and Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) to vote for a candidate in their home constituencies from anywhere in the country and abroad. This will enable 290 million Indians working in the country away from his birthplace, and 16 million NRIs working abroad.

In the world’s largest democracy, 911 million out of 1,138 million people are aged above 18, and are eligible to vote. In last year’s Lok Sabha election, 610 million (67%) voted—-the highest in Indian parliamentary history.

The proposal under discussion involves ushering in a new-age electronic voting machine (EVM) that will have a dynamic candidate’s list to enable voting for a contestant in one’s home constituency.

Current EVMs have a constituency-specific ballot unit which lists candidates only for a specific constituency. EVMs with a ‘dynamic ballot paper’ will display a list of contestants of a voter’s home constituency.

For instance, a voter registered in Malda in West Bengal but working in Delhi will be able to vote for a candidate of his or her choice in Malda from Delhi itself. At present, migrant voters are unable to vote unless they go to their constituency.

 About 10,000 new-age EVMs are estimated to serve the purpose with every district given 5-6 such machines at various ‘remote voting’ centres with a higher number in bigger cities having higher migrant population.

 The full Election Commission is set to soon deliberate a conceptual framework of the technology to enable vote-from-anywhere, with the 2024 Lok Sabha elections in mind, The Economic Times quoted officials as saying. Pilot runs are likely to be done during bypolls.

 In April, the poll panel set up a seven-member technical advisory group chaired by Rajat Moona, the former director general of the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing and with experts from IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) in Madras, Delhi and Bombay as members to work on a plan to develop a ‘remote voting framework’.

 Moona said a ‘prototype demonstration’ will be done in a month to ECI. “We are looking at an EVM which instead of a paper ballot for a specific constituency will have a dynamic candidates’ list display to allow one to vote for a candidate in one’s home constituency.

 “Each machine will be able to help voters of multiple constituencies cast the ballot instead of being specific to one constituency. New machines will have to be brought in for the purpose, and we hope to share the conceptual plan and prototype soon with the EC, which will take a final decision on it,” Moona said.

 The study group has identified two key challenges: Minimal internet use with high safety features. Current EVMs do not use any internet and, therefore, are considered ‘hackproof’. The second challenge will be formulating a protocol for vote counting, VVPAT (Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail) checks and verification for ballots cast using the dynamic EVMs.

 “The latter is the toughest part, and we are looking at a few choices for the purpose of counting and VVPAT verification. In April, the poll panel set up a seven-member technical advisory group to work on a plan to develop a ‘remote voting framework’.

 “ECI’s inputs and views on the right choice will be taken. We hope to have clarity by January so that we can plan pilot projects and ultimately scale up the use of the machine in the next Lok Sabha election in 2024,” Moona added.

 The ECI is planning a technology shift along with the proposed postal ballot-based voting for NRIs. Incidentally, when consultations were held with political parties on allowing postal ballot for NRIs, many in the opposition, including the Congress Party, argued that steps need to be first taken to ensure domestic migrants are able to vote, regardless of geographic location. The ECI itself has been alive to the issue of domestic voters missing out for a while now.

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Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’ 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.

“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.

In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.

Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”

Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.

Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.

Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.

Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.

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Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre

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By Norman Palihawadane

Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.

The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.

DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.

A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.

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All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments

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The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.

The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.

At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.

 

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