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Top Experts From IIT Who Helped Design India's Most Tamper-Proof EVMs

India became the first country in the world to deploy EVMs in elections.

New Delhi:

The mother of democracy, India, uses 21st-century technology to conduct the world’s largest electoral exercise. Here are some little-known and little-understood technological facts for you to know this election season.

India uses the third generation Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) or the M3 EVM machines. They are tamper-proof and if tried to be opened, they go into a ‘Safety Mode’ and become inoperable.

A team of experienced professors from three different Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are involved in this latest upgrade. 

After 2019, the Election Commission of India (ECI) deployed only the M3 EVM machines, which are the most advanced. All the earlier – M1 and M2 have been discarded for good.

Nearly 5.5 million EVMs will be used in the 2024 Lok Sabha Elections. Each is a standalone device almost akin to a basic calculator, even the latest third-generation EVMs – The M3 machines that the ECI is using, are not connected to the internet and cannot connect to Bluetooth, making them impenetrable through remote devices, a big bugbear for hackers as today most hacking is done via the internet in connected devices.  

The ECI is supported by an eminent Technical Expert Committee (TEC) on EVMs, a team of top experts from IIT have helped design India’s most tamper-proof EVMs. 

The members are Prof D T Shahani and Prof A K Aggarwala, both from IIT Delhi. Prof Rajat Moona, Director, IIT Gandhinagar and Prof Dinesh K Sharma from IIT Bombay.

Prof D T Shahani, a specialist in sensors and instrumentation, has over 40 years of experience and was awarded the Padma Shri in 2022. 

Since 2016, Professor Shahani has been involved in mentoring the latest EVM design for the Election Commission of India. His colleague from the same IIT, Prof A K Aggarwala, has contributed to the making of the M3 EVM machines too.

Prof Shahani’s profile on IIT Delhi says he was awarded the National Award for Best Electoral Practices in 2017. 

“Indian EVMs are different from other EVMs in the world. The M3 EVMs have no connection to any other device, not even mains power supply,” asserts Prof Dinesh K Sharma, a specialist on microelectronics and solid-state electronics.  

Professor Sharma works at the Department of Electrical Engineering at IIT Bombay and has nearly 34 years of experience behind him. Prof Sharma told an audience of the Tata Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai, “The strong technical safeguards in electronic voting machines and elaborate administrative safeguards, procedures and security put in place by ECI ensure that the elections are transparent, free and fair.” 

“An EVM is a dedicated system designed for voting and not a general purpose computing device with a loaded program for electronic voting,” Prof Sharma added.

He emphasized that the Technical Experts Committee works independently of the ECI and works very responsibly.

Prof Rajat Moona is an expert on computer science and cyber security, smartcards is currently the director of the IIT-Gandhinagar and is the go-to person for all issues related to cyber-physical security. He earlier told NDTV that “No tampering has ever been recorded in Indian EVMs. They are an exceptional and user-friendly technology made by Indians for Indian people to suit the unique needs of the Indian democracy.”

Professor Moona has also been the Director General of the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC). He has over three decades of experience as a computer engineer, helping with many national projects. He completed his B. Tech (Electrical Engineering) from Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur and a Ph.D. (Computer Science) from Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. 

Interestingly, India became the first country in the world to deploy EVMs in elections. These robust but simple machines were first used in 1982 in an election in Kerala.

According to the ECI, the life of an EVM is 15 years. The Control Unit costs Rs 9,812. The Balloting Unit costs 7,991, and the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) costs 16,132. The whole EVM unit costs about Rs 33,935. The ECI spent Rs 3960.10 crores between 2021-2023 to procure the latest M3 EVMs. 

None of the experts in the committee charges any money from the Election Commission of India as they work to ensure that India’s democracy is well protected. Between them, the experts who helped to build the latest EVMs have a collective and cumulative professional experience of researching various aspects of electronics for over 150 years. 

Professor Sharma asserts, “Each EVM is a unique [electronic] island in itself, and this makes them super secure”.