New Delhi, Jan 6 (IANS) In another technological leap forward from the 2009 general elections when it had launched the COMET online monitoring system, the Election Commission of India now hopes to supervise the 2014 national elections - the largest democratic exercise in the world - with a coded SMS-based alert system.
"We hope to use it in the next general elections," Deputy Election Commissioner Alok Shukla told IANS.
According to Shukla, the Communication Plan for Election (COMET), which aimed at creating a database of mobile phone numbers of around 1.1 million government officials deployed for the 2009 general elections so that the poll panel could reach them quickly, has transformed into a high-tech SMS-based alert system.
The system uses coded messages to collect data about officials on duty. It also helps in monitoring events down to a particular polling booth at the click of a mouse.
The new system was first used in the assembly polls in Goa, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Manipur in early 2012 and in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat towards the year-end.
Shukla said the new system works by and large successfully and the officials concerned had to be called only in 10 percent of the cases for resolving the complaints reported.
"COMET consisted of a control room used to collect mobile phone numbers of around 1.1 million government officials on poll duty and helped us coordinate with them. The sms-based monitoring system has reduced the workload tremendously," Shukla said.
According to the official, the new system uses coded text messages through mobile phones to collect data about officials, information about scheduled events like staff reaching the polling station, mock poll conducted, start of polling, voting percentages every two hours, number of voters in queue after voting time was over, and whether the poll party reached safely at the high security Electronic Voting Machine (EVMs) deposit centre.
"Officials on the ground just need to punch in a few letters to send various coded SMSes. The information is instantly available online and can be used by the commission and poll officials in the state capital and districts," Shukla told IANS.
In case of an unforeseen event such as malfunctioning of EVMs, problems in the voter list or a law and order problem, the system alerts the superintendent of police and the police inspector of the area concerned through an sms.
"When a law and order problem is reported, quick response of the police and the commission matters a lot," said Shukla.
Information related to the scheduled and unforeseen events is relayed to all the poll officials deployed in a particular area, he said.
However, in remote areas, where the mobile phones don't work, oll officials have to reach the nearest telephone to inform the call centre located in the state capital.
(Amit Agnihotri can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)