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‘Don’t try to bring down system like this’: SC on 100 per cent VVPAT verification of EVM votes

The Supreme Court bench said it had not forgotten what used to happen in the era of ballot papers, when one of the petitioners suggested going back to ballot papers.

Edited By: Arushi Jaiswal @JaiswalArushi New Delhi Updated on: April 17, 2024 6:22 IST
Supreme Court
Image Source : FILE PHOTO Supreme Court of India

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday criticised the criticism of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and the calls for reverting to ballot papers, stating that the electoral process in India is a "humongous task," and efforts should not be made to "bring down the system."

The apex court also recalled instances of polling booths being captured in the era of ballot papers to manipulate election results.

The top court was hearing a batch of pleas seeking complete cross-verification of the votes cast using EVMs with Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT), an independent vote verification system that enables an elector to see whether his vote was cast correctly.

The bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta criticised the argument suggesting that many European countries have reverted to ballot papers after experimenting with voting machines.

Here's what Supreme Court said

“This is a humongous task. No European country can do this. You talked about Germany but what is the population there. My home state West Bengal is far more populous than Germany. We have to repose faith and trust in the electoral process. Don’t try to bring down the system like this,” Justice Datta told advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for NGO ‘Association for Democratic Reforms’.

Bhushan advocated for a return to ballot papers, citing the example of Germany.

The bench said there were roughly 98 crore registered voters in India. “There will be some mismatch in vote count due to some human errors but it can be countered and checked,” it said.

'Human intervention in a process creates problems'

Justice Khanna, while referring to booth capturing in the past, said, “Mr. Bhushan, we are all in our 60s. We have seen what used to happen earlier when there were no EVMs. We don’t need to tell you.” Bhushan clarified that he wasn't casting aspersions on the Election Commission or alleging manipulation of EVMs. He emphasised his concern that these polling machines could potentially be tampered with.

Justice Khanna pointed out to Bhushan that human intervention in a process creates problems including bias, whereas machines, when left to operate without improper human interference, tend to function correctly and provide accurate outcomes.

The bench directed a series of questions to the Election Commission officials present in the court regarding the functioning of EVMs, their storage procedures, and the potential for data manipulation. “We want you to apprise us of each and every detail from point A to Z on the EVMs, right from their assembling to storage after the counting of votes,” the bench told senior advocate Maninder Singh, appearing for the Election Commission. 

Bhushan said he also wants that every voter should be allowed to collect the paper slip of his vote cast from the VVPAT machine and drop it into the ballot box. He also sought a reversal of the poll panel’s decision to replace the transparent glass on VVPAT machines with an opaque glass through which a voter can see the slip only when the light is on for seven seconds.

He alleged that two public sector undertakings–Bharat Electronic Ltd and Electronics Corporation of India Ltd (ECILL)–have as its directors people who are associated with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

The bench asked Singh whether it is possible to subject EVMs to technical evaluation to rule out any foul play after the counting of votes is over.

Singh urged the court to not indicate any such thing without hearing the poll panel on the issue as it would create unnecessary confusion. “Don’t be apprehensive. We are not indicating any such thing but are only soliciting a response,” Justice Khanna told Singh.

Heraing to resume on April 18

The bench also asked the poll panel to apprise it about the punishment prescribed under the law for someone who manipulates EVMs. “If some manipulation is done, then what is the consequence? What is the punishment prescribed under the law? Tell us. This is a very serious thing because there should be some fear of the consequences,” the court told Singh.

Senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, appearing for activist Arun Kumar Agrawal, who has sought a complete count of VVPAT slips in polls, submitted there should not be even an iota of doubt about the electoral process and the Election Commission should ensure that.

He claimed after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, a parliamentary committee had found discrepancies in EVM data but the Election Commission never responded to the panel. “There are very high chances of error. We always blame the population for everything including the number of cases clogging our judicial system. We should focus on the system so that there is no iota of doubt in the mind of even a single voter,” he said.

During the nearly two-hour-long hearing, several advocates appearing for different petitioners addressed the court, with some suggesting use of bar codes to reduce chances of manipulation of EVMs. One of them claimed conflict of interest on part of members of the technical committee of the election commission, saying they were the inventors and designers of the EVMs.

The hearing remained inconclusive and would resume on April 18.

The seven-phase Lok Sabha polls will begin on April 19.

The ADR has sought matching the count in EVMs with votes that have been verifiably “recorded as cast” and to ensure that the voter is able to verify through VVPAT slip that his vote, as recorded on the paper slip, has been “counted as recorded”.

(With PTI inputs)

Also Read: Supreme Court seeks Election Commission reply on plea for complete count of VVPAT slips

Also Read: BJP asks Election Commission to take strict action against Rahul Gandhi for his 'match-fixing' remarks

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