The Joint Chief Electoral Officer and other staff of the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer, Kerala, told the Crime Branch that the voters' list that found its way to the public, including then opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala, were the ones kept sealed in the internal servers of the CEO's Office. Meaning, the electoral rolls were illegally taken from the laptops and computers of the CEO's office.
The officials gave their statements to the Crime Branch during the interrogation held during July 8 and 9.
The CB had taken up the case on the basis of a complaint filed by the Kerala CEO's Office on July 1 saying that voters' list were leaked from internal laptops. The complaint was lodged on the directions of the Election Commission of India. The EC's direction follows a report submitted by C-DAC (Centre for Development of Advanced Computing, India), which had raised the possibility that the voters' data could have been stolen from the hardware used by Keltron staff deputed to the CEO's office.
The complaint, filed by Joint Chief Electoral Officer Krishnadasan P, also spoke of a conspiracy angle to the leak and sought a probe along those lines, too. The CB registered the FIR on July 2 under section of the IT Act, conspiracy and theft.
According to a top source in the CB, the complainants aver that the rolls that were found leaked were in the format they were saved in the office's own servers for internal use and not in the format that could be accessed by the public. This is why, the CB source said, the EC wanted the conspiracy angle probed.The CB had taken six laptops and as many computers from the CEO's Office. These confiscated hardware will be sent for forensics examination.
The CB sleuths also collected information from the CEO, Teeka Ram Meena. The source said Meena cooperated willingly.
It was then Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala who, in the second week of March, brought out the anomalies in the voters' list drawn up for the 2021 Assembly elections. He had then alleged that 4 lakh double entries had crept into the electoral rolls.
Initially, after preliminary investigations by district collectors, CEO Teeka Ram Meena had said there was merit in the charges of fake entries in the voters' list. Later, the CEO informed the Kerala High Court that it could detect only 38,586 demographically similar entries (DSEs) and that sufficient safeguards were in place to prevent bogus voting.
Lending credence to the charges of rampant bogus votes, the Assistant Electoral Registration Officer (AERO), Uduma, was placed under suspension after it was found that five electoral ID cards were issued to one voter. The cards were approved although the booth-level officer (BLO) had not recommended it.
In a media interaction in March this year, Meena had sought to put the issue in perspective. He said double entries were not new in the country's election scene. Across India, he said the number of Demographically Similar Entries (DSE) in the electoral rolls stands at over 26 lakh.
Ramesh Chennithala, on his part, termed the complaint of the CEO's Office as "gross injustice". He said the voters’ list was not leaked and said he got the list from the website of the election commission. "It was a public document and anyone can download it from the website," he said. "“It is the duty of the commission to ensure a free and fair voters’ list. But it failed. Instead of finding out how it has happened, the commission is now targeting those who have pointed out the mistakes. It is strange,” he added.