SC seeks EC reply on plea by 21 opposition leaders for verification of 50 pc VVPAT slips

The Supreme Court Friday agreed to hear the plea of 21 opposition leaders, led by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, seeking that VVPAT slips of at least 50 per cent of voting machines in each assembly constituency be checked randomly in the Lok Sabha elections.

The leaders from six national and 15 regional parties, claiming to represent 70-75 per cent of the population, have also sought the setting aside of the Election Commission of India (EC) guideline on random verification of one assembly seat.

A bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said that notice be issued to the EC, and the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) should depute an officer to assist the court in the matter.

The bench, also comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, posted the matter for further hearing on March 25 and asked the ECI to file its reply in two weeks.

The parties include the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Aam Aadmi Party, CPI (Marxist), CPI, Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Rashtriya Lok Dal, Loktantrik Janata Dal and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).

“The petitioners are presidents/ leaders of 21 different national and regional political parties (six out of seven national parties and 15 regional parties) across the country electorally representing about 70-75 percent of the people of India,” the plea said.

It has sought quashing of the EC guideline which provides that random verification of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) slips shall be conducted in one polling stations in case of assembly election and in each assembly segment in case of Lok Sabha election.

The plea also sought, “a further direction to the election commission for random verification of at least 50 per cent electronic voting machines (EVM) using the VVPAT per assembly segment/ assembly constituency”.

The plea referred to the 1975 verdict of apex court in the case of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, which held that free and fair elections are part of the basic structure of the Constitution of India.

It also referred to the 2013 verdict of Supreme court in the case of BJP leader Subramanian Swamy where it was held that paper trail for EVM are an “indispensable requirement” for free and fair elections.

“The impugned guideline issued by Respondent No.2 (Election Commission of India) hits at the basic structure of the Constitution by making VVPAT completely ineffective and merely ornamental in nature as it translates to an actual check on less than 0.44 per cent of EVMs in the country.

“The said Guideline, therefore, defeats the entire purpose of introducing VVPAT and renders the judgment and directions passed by this court completely otiose,” it said.

The plea further stated that the guideline amounts to taking away from the left hand what was given by the right and reduce the safeguards and substantive essence of the judgments of this Court to a nullity.

“The petitioners submit that a procedural or executive instruction in the form of guidelines cannot render the main substantive safeguard nugatory, more so where the latter traces itself back not only to a Constitutional provision but, indeed, to the basic structure of the Constitution,” it said.

The plea further stated that the directions are being sought for giving effect to the judgment of this court declaring VVPAT as “integral and intrinsic to free and fair elections which, in turn are part of the basic structure of the Constitution of India”.

Naidu, the lead petitioner, had declared in February that the parties will be moving the apex court against the use of EVMs.

The move comes after the leaders of the opposition parties met at NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s residence.

The parties had raised apprehensions in a meeting with the EC in February about the credibility of EVMs, although the poll panel has denied allegations of machines being tampered with.

The EC, while announcing the Lok Sabha election schedule, had said that mandatory checking of EVMs and VVPAT will be done on the basis of one polling station for each Lok Sabha constituency.

Earlier, Kamal Nath and Sachin Pilot last year had approached the apex court for conducting VVPAT verification at least 10 per cent of randomly selected polling booths in each assembly constituency to ensure free and fair elections in MP and Rajasthan last year.

However, the apex court, which was dealing with other poll issues ahead of the assembly polls in MP and Rajasthan had refused to go into the VVPAT issue in its judgement delivered on October 12, 2018 saying these issues were dealt by the apex court in earlier petitions and orders have been passed.

SC Issues Notice On Plea By 21 Political Parties For 50% VVPAT Verification

The Supreme Court today issued notice on a petition filed by leaders from 21 political parties seeking a direction to the Election Commission of India(ECI) to randomly verify at least 50 per cent votes using Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trails (VVPATs) in the polls to 17th Lok Sabha. The bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has asked the ECI to give its response on March 25. The petition also challenges the decision of ECI to verify VVPAT of only one randomly selected booth of a constituency. The petitioners say that this will account only for 0.44% of the votes polled. This guideline defeats the entire purpose of VVPAT and makes the same “ornamental” without actual substance, they state.

The petition refers to the decision in Dr. Subramanian Swamy v ECI (2013) 10 SCC 500 which held that VVPAT is an “indispensable requirement of free and fair elections”. To give meaningful effect to this judgment, at least 50% of VVPAT should be verified. Also Read – When Interpretation Of ‘Text Mode Document’ Turned Fate Of Kamal Nath’s Plea In MP Polls Case [Read Judgment] “A 50% randomised verification in each assembly constituency/assembly segment is a reasonable sample size to both (a) allay the fears of the general public with regard to EVM tampering and; (b) be a statistically significant sample size to ensure that EVMs are working properly,” the plea said.

VVPAT is a paper slip generated by the Electronic Voting Machine everytime a voter casts his vote, recording the party to whom the vote was made. This is kept in a sealed cover to be opened only in case of a future dispute. The ECI had informed the Court in 2017 that VVPAT will be used 100% in future elections. However, the decision taken by the ECI in July 2018 was to verify VVPAT of a randomly selected polling station from a constituency. The petitioners are : N Chandrababu Naidu (TDP) Sharad Pawar (NCP) K C Venugopal (INC) Derek O Brien (TMC) Sharad Yadav (LTJD) Akhilesh Yadav (SP) Satish Chandra Mishra (BSP) M K Stalin (DMK) T K Ranga Rajan (CPI(M)) S Sudhakar Reddu (CPI) Manoj Kumar Jha (RJD) Arvind Kejriwal (AAP) Farookh Abdullah (NC) K Danish Ali (RJD) Ajith Singh (RLD) M Badrudding Ajmal (AIUDF) Jithin Ram Manji (Hindusthani Awam Morcha) Ashok Kumar Singh (JVM) Khorrum Anis Omar (IUML) Prof.Kodanadram (Telengana Jana Samithi) K G Kenye (Naga Peoples Front)

 

 

SC refuses Cong plea for counting of VVPAT slips in Guj

SC refuses Cong plea for counting of VVPAT slips in Guj
SC refuses Cong plea for counting of VVPAT slips in Guj

The Supreme Court today refused to entertain a plea of the Gujarat Congress seeking counting of at least 20 per cent of the paper trail slips manually along with votes cast in the EVMs in each constituency of the state.

It said that the court cannot interfere unless the Election Commission of India’s decision to restrict the EVM- VVPAT paper trail to one booth per constituency is proved “arbitrary”, “illegal” or “malafide”.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud permitted petitioner Mohammad Arif Rajput, a Gujarat Congress leader, to withdraw his plea but granted liberty to file a comprehensive petition later seeking election reforms.

The apex court said that a debate on polls reforms can only take place after the election process in the state is over.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Rajput, said that the counting of the slips of the voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) machines along with the votes cast in the electronic voting machines (EVM) count in at least 20 per cent of the booths of each constituency would reassure the people about the fairness of the polls.

The bench then questioned the locus standi of the petitioner and asked Singhvi who he was representing.

The counsel replied that he was a secretary of the main opposition party Congress in Gujarat.

The bench told Singhvi that his client had approached it in his personal capacity and he should have let the party take a bold stand and approach the court.

Singhvi said, “I am an officer bearer of the party in the state.”

The court told the counsel that a candidate has every right to question the vote count before the returning officer.

“This court can’t interfere unless the Election Commission’s decision for a random check pf the EVM-VVPAT paper trail in one booth per constituency is proved arbitrary, illegal or malafide. We cannot discredit the Election Commission’s decision without cogent material,” it said.

After the top court said that it cannot override the EC’s complete discretion to conduct the polls, Singhvi scaled down his demand saying that counting of paper trails in at least ten per cent of the booths per constituency should take place.

The bench said that it had recently rejected a petition challenging the discretionary power of a returning officer under 56(D)(2) of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, which confers discretionary power on the returning officer to refuse counting of the VVPAT.

Singhvi again said that counting of the paper trail in a sufficient number will reassure the people about the fairness of the elections through the EVMs.

The court then permitted the petitioner to withdraw his plea but granted liberty to approach it with a comprehensive petition on electoral reforms which could be connected with the VVPAT issue.

( Source – PTI )