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EVM activist's custody extended, demand for all party meeting

Last updated on: August 26, 2010 18:01 IST

The man who showed that Electronic Voting Machines could be tampered with will be in police custody for another two days in the EVM theft case even as a demand was made in Parliament for an all-party meeting to discuss in depth their "vulnerability" in elections.

Mumbai Metropolitan Magistrate V B Srikhande while extending activist Hari Prasad's police remand till August 28, refused to entertain his bail plea, saying it would be considered only after his police remand gets over and he is sent to judicial custody.

The arrest of Prasad, 42, technical coordinator of VeTA (Citizens for Verifiability, Transparency and Accountability in Elections), from Hyderabad on Saturday for allegedly stealing an EVM from the Mumbai Collector's office also had political overtones with Telugu Desam Party chief Chandrabab Naidu batting for him.

Prasad later used the EVM for demonstrating on TV how the machine could be tampered with.

Naidu described as "unfortunate" the arrest and demanded Prasad's release immediately.

The police sought further custody of Prasad, saying it needed to find out the identity of two other activists from Maharashtra who allegedly helped him.

"This is a very sensitive case with repercussions at the national level and police should be given time and Hari Prasad's custody for investigation," Srikhande observed.

Claiming innocence, Prasad said he did not steal the EVM, which was given to him by two people, who took it back within two days.

Appearing on behalf of the accused, his counsel Mahesh Jethmalani said the EVM was handed over to Prasad by some activists from Maharashtra including the husband of  politician Shobha Bachav, who had approached his client to know if he could prove that the machine was not tamper-proof.

"Prasad agreed to prove that the EVM could be tampered with. He did not steal the machine," Jethmalani said.

Prasad has been booked under sections of the Indian Penal Code related to theft and trespass.

In the Lok Sabha, several members of Parliament said the vulnerability of the voting machines to tampering should be looked into thoroughly and an all-party meeting be called to discuss the issue.

"A computer readjustment of the programme (in an EVM) and we will be sitting in the opposition forever," Bharatiya Janata Party MP Maneka Gandhi said.

She said an all-party meeting should be called and opinion of experts sought on the issue.

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and Union Minister Farooq Abdullah said during his tenure as CM, EVMs were introduced for the first time and questions were raised then on whether these machines were "foolproof".

"I think they should probe first. You have to be very clear that the machines are foolproof... it should be free of doubt," Abdullah said.

Trinamool Congress chief whip in Lok Sabha Sudip Bandopadhyaya said EVMs made the voting pattern quicker but at the same time these should be above any doubts.

Chandrababu Naidu said Prasad had only used the machine to prove that it was tamperable.

"It is not his crime."

"The EVMs are tamperable. And, there is no backup. Even experts have raised this issue. The election commission did not take into consideration all these things, but we don't know why they have arrested the expert. We have raised this issue in Parliament," said Naidu.
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