Oppn VVPAT petition: SC seeks EC’s response

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday took less than a minute to seek the Election Commission’s response to a joint petition filed by leaders of 21 non-NDA political parties pleading for mandatory counting of VVPAT paper slips in at least 50% of EVMs in each assembly segment in the Lok Sabha elections even though it may delay declaration of results.

Senior advocate AM Singhvi, who played a key role in framing the proposal and circulating it among non-NDA parties, did not have to make elaborate arguments as a bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna instantly issued notice to the EC. It called for a suitable officer of the EC to be in court on March 25, when the matter would be taken up for hearing.

“Competent authority of the Election Commission of India shall depute a suitable officer to assist the court on March 25,” the bench said.

The demand of the parties, which claim to represent 70-75% of India’s population electorally, follows their claim that EVMs have not been reliable and can be manipulated. The EC has repeatedly asserted that EVMs do not have a wireless link and cannot be hacked . Last year, it organized a challenge for the “ experts” to and hack the machines.

With the first phase of elections scheduled for April 11 and counting of votes slated for May 23, the CJI-led bench wanted to adjudicate the sensitive issue as soon as possible and gave March 25 as the next date, the first working day when the court reopens after a break for Holi.

The 21 leaders include TDP chief leader and Andhra Pradesh CM N Chandrababu Naidu, Sharad Pawar (NCP), K C Venugopal (Congress), Derek O’Brien (TMC), Sharad Yadav (Loktantrik Janata Dal), Akhilesh Yadav (SP), Satish Chandra Mishra (BSP), M K Stalin (DMK), T K Rangarajan (CPM), S Sudhakar Reddy (CPI), Manoj Kumar Jha (RJD), Arvind Kejriwal (Delhi CM and AAP chief), Farooq Abdullah (NC), K Danish Ali (JDS), Ajit Singh (RLD), M Badruddin Ajmal (AIUDF), Jitan Ram Manjhi (HAM), Ashok Kumar Singh (Jharkhand Vikas Morcha), Khorrum Anis Omer (IUML), K G Kenye (Naga Peoples Front) and Prof Kodandaram (Telangana Jana Samiti).

The petition said these political parties were unanimous and had jointly come before the SC for relief to ensure free and fair elections.

They challenged the EC’s guidelines requiring counting of VVPATs from only one randomly selected polling station per assembly constituency or segment to check veracity of EVMs. “This translates to an actual check on less than 0.44% of EVMs in the country,” they said.

“It is of paramount importance not only to generate VVPAT but also to ensure regular and statistically significant scrutiny process to ensure that EVM and VVPAT results are matched to remove any doubt from the minds of the public that the EVM has been hacked or tampered with, resulting in a completely different outcome. This cannot be done by randomly checking only one polling station per assembly constituency or segment,” the petition said.

Interestingly, the politicians cited the SC’s 2017 judgment in BJP leader Subramanian Swamy’s petition, in which the EC was directed to attach VVPAT with 100% of EVMs. The petitioners said the EC guidelines defeated the entire purpose of introducing VVPAT.

For some months, EVMs have been at the centre of controversy with Congress leading the opposition assault on its integrity and tamper-proof quality.

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