New Delhi: A Karnataka government-owned company is hoping for a twofold increase in its business following an Election Commission (EC) directive asking returning officers to put a line instead of the usual dot on a voter’s finger in this general election.
Mysore Paints and Varnish Ltd(MPVL), the sole manufacturer in the country of indelible ink—or voter’s ink—expects to sell 20,000 litres of the ink during the polls starting 16 April, more than double the 9,000 litres it sold in the 2004 elections, a top company official said.
The ink, meant to prevent a voter from voting twice, is a vital requirement for elections in India.
Preventing fraud: A file photo of an election official (left) marking a voter’s finger with the indelible ink. Jayanta Dey / Reuters
EC recently decided to adopt the new procedure of applying the ink—a line running from the top of the nail to the bottom of the first joint of the left forefinger—instead of the single dot used since the first general election in 1952.
MPVL, which has already supplied a huge quantity of the ink ahead of the polls, says the higher sales will reflect in its revenue for the fiscal year just ended. The firm’s revenue could rise twofold from Rs6-7 crore a year ago, said K.J. Suresh, its managing director.
The ink was developed by New Delhi-based National Physical Laboratory (NPL) for the first general election. MPVL, which now owns the patent for this, has supplied the ink for elections since 1962. The company also exports it to Afghanistan, Malaysia and Turkey.
Though the basic chemical formula hasn’t changed since 1952, research is still on at NPL to make the ink dry faster.
“Most qualified chemists can deduce the constituents of the ink. But it’s the precise chemicals and their quantities that really matter,” said Krishan Lal, an emeritus scientist at NPL and former director of the Council of Scientific and Indus trial Research. According to Lal, MPVL’s monopoly is largely due to the comfort level EC enjoys with the company. “It’s a nearly 50-year-old trust. Still, before every assembly or by-election, EC sends a consignment of the ink that will be used to us (NPL). We test it, check if it’s okay and only then it goes for manufacturing,” said Lal.
At 69, Lal is NPL’s senior-most serving scientist and although he is not one of the makers of the ink, he has played a crucial role as a scientist and an administrator in improving its quality. “Some of them (who developed the ink) are dead, the rest retired long ago. But I don’t remember their names,” he said.
Lal did not disclose the chemical composition of the violet ink being prepared for India’s 714 million-strong electorate, only saying that the mix consists of silver nitrate and some dyes.
The ink can be smudged off within 40 seconds of application, Lal said (he doesn’t say how though). “For those who really try, you can delete the ink off your finger with potas sium cyanide, though I don’t know why somebody would want to vote twice at such grave risk to their lives,” he added. Potassium cyanide is an extremely poisonous compound.
Though research is on to improve the poll ink, EC is quite happy with the current quality. “The quality of ink is already quite satisfactory,” said S.Y. Qureshi, election commissioner. “Maybe there was some complaint about some lot, but prima facie, there is no problem with the ink. I had voted in the Delhi (assembly) elections some months ago and the ink is still there on my nails.”
However, over the past decade, NPL has, on its own, tried to come up with new kinds of election inks. “We hit upon a formulation that dried up much faster than the current ink and was distinctly visible for a long-enough period. EC tested it in a by-election and wasn’t too happy,” said Lal. “It was a different colour (he refused to say which) and EC said people could object that it symbolized certain parties contesting the election.”
Another approach that didn’t work was using two inks—one, a colourless liquid applied on the nail that would rapidly absorb the subsequently applied voter ink and facilitate quick drying. “Poll officers found it tedious to apply two inks and the idea was dropped,” said Prabhat Gupta, another NPL scientist, who has been involved with the ink-making process.
The strangest alternative that is yet to be tried is having the polling officer apply ink on the voter’s finger nail and then have it pass through a low-intensity laser beam, to make the ink dry faster. “We have presented this idea to EC, but it isn’t being mooted, yet,” said Lal.