Palghar: Bedsheets, cloth and fans were used to protect the EVMs from extreme heat, light or dust in Monday's bypolls held in Palghar and Bhandara-Gondiya Lok Sabha constituencies in Maharashtra, said Palghar Collector Prashant Narnaware.
Amid Opposition onslaught of alleged tinkering with Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) and electronic voting machines (EVMs) deployed first time in two Maharashtra constituencies, he sought to give an insight into the problems the Election Commission (EC) encountered.
"The sensors of these EVMs are extremely sensitive to heat, light and dust pollution. We were alerted on this by the EC beforehand. We faced problems even during the first level checks carried out on these machines a few days ago," Narnaware told IANS.
Of the total 2,907 EVMs deployed, 156 machines in different areas of the constituency malfunctioned, but the officials were prepared to tackle it.
"Anticipating a 15 per cent error margin in the machines, we had already ordered 15 per cent more than our requirements and had sent them to various Assembly segments in Palghar for quick replacement.
"This was done promptly as and when complaints were received," Narnaware said.
Additionally, the collectorate had demanded a team of 100 engineers to handle the problems that could crop up in the EVMs, and the EC had sent 96 engineers who were distributed evenly in the Assembly segments, he said.
Besides, the local polling stations took their own little precautions like covering the windows with bedsheets, cloth cover near the EVMs and even installing fans in some areas to protect the machines from extreme heat, light or dust.
Narnaware said against a permissible error margin of 15 per cent, Palghar saw lower than 10 per cent, but admitted that it affected the voting percentages.
Till 4 p.m., the district had notched around 28 per cent voting, but this he attributed to the poor turnout in the urban centres compared to rural, the holiday season, high day temperatures and the general lack of interest among the people for bye-elections.
"However, acceding to submissions by various political parties, we have forwarded a request to the EC for an extension of the voting hours, and await their decision.
"Meanwhile, I have instructed that any citizen who comes to the polling station by 6 p.m. must be allowed to vote even if it takes an hour or so more to complete the (voting) process," Narnaware said.
In Bhandara-Gondiya, there have been complaints of more than 100 EVMs malfunctioning even as all opposition parties and ruling ally Shiv Sena cried foul.
Though no repolling has been ordered in any areas of the two constituencies, the Opposition parties have alleged tampering with the machines, while at least one, Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh President Prakash Ambedkar, has sought a repoll in Bhandara-Gondiya.
The Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Shiv Sena have strongly criticized the EC for a large number of faulty machines and accused it of not even registering complaints.
Sena MP Sanjay Raut said the EVM glitches are nothing but a manifestation of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis' recent controversial statement on 'Saam, Daam, Dand, Bhed'.
Senior NCP leader Praful Patel said: "I have come to know that around 60 machines are defective... The EC must take serious note of this. What is the security of the votes that have already been case in the malfunctioning EVMs?"
Congress state spokesperson Sachin Sawant alleged large-scale irregularities as the BJP was attempting to make the Lok Sabha bypolls 'My-polls'.