20 Apr 2024  |   05:18am IST

Supreme Court reserves verdict on EVM-VVPAT pleas

The Supreme Court of India on Thursday reserved its verdict on a petition seeking 100 per cent cross-verification of votes cast by voters on Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) with Voter Verified Paper Audit Trails (VVPAT) machines. Voting however for the first phase of the 18th Lok Sabha elections began at 7 am on Friday. 

The hearing had started in the Supreme Court on April 16. A plea was filed by NGO Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), seeking cross-verification of votes cast by voters 'as counted and recorded' in the EVM with the VVPAT. The bench consisting of Justice Sanjeev Khanna and Justice Dipankar Datta listened to the arguments of lawyers for almost 5 hours on April 18. 

Senior counsels Adv Prashant Bhushan, Adv Gopal Shankaranarayan and Adv Sanjay Hegde appeared on behalf of the petitioners, while Adv Maninder Singh appeared on behalf of the Election Commission and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appeared on behalf of the central government. On this occasion, Adv Prashant Bhushan appearing for petitioners submitted a report before the court which alleged that the BJP got more votes in the mock polling in Kerala. On this, the court asked Election Commission Counsel Maninder Singh how appropriate this claim is and Singh said the report was false and baseless. Here, the court asked the Election Commission why VVPAT slips cannot be given to the voters after voting. 

The Election Commission said that there is a big risk in giving VVPAT slips to the voters as it will compromise on the confidentiality of the vote and may be misused outside the booth and added that they could not say how other people would use it. The court understood the entire process of EVMs and VVPATs from the Election Commission counsel and said that the sanctity of the election process should be maintained, and that there is no doubt that this should have happened and did not happen. 

The Court then reserved the decision. By this time, about 2 lakh polling stations in 102 constituencies in the country were ready for the first phase of voting.

The objection that EVMs can be tampered with is not a new one. This issue has been raised in the Supreme Court many times before. Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, leaders of 21 opposition parties demanded that at least 50 percent of all EVMs should be tested with votes in the VVPAT machine slips. At that time, the Election Commission used to test one EVM with the VVPAT machine in each constituency. On  April 8, 2019, the number of EVMs for tallying was increased from 1 to 5. Later, in May 2019, some technicians filed a petition seeking verification of all EVMs with VVPAT slips, which was rejected by the Supreme Court. A petition for reconciliation was also filed by the ADR. Rejecting this, the Supreme Court had said that sometimes we start doubting the fairness of the elections. This time, the Supreme Court tried to understand in detail about the process. An important demand of the petitioners was that if the VVPAT cannot be given to ensure that the votes cast by the voters go to the same symbol, then at least 100% cross-verification of the votes cast on the EVMs with the slips in the VVPAT machine should be done. When the Supreme Court asked about the feasibility, it was clarified that it may take a long time and this may delay the overall election process without achieving the purpose of EVM. The court then asked the Election Commission if some measures can be taken to reduce the time. The EC's reply was that the paper used for the VVPAT slip lacked quality. On the other hand, Sankaranarayanan, counsel for the petitioners, argued that when the VVPAT machine is connected to the ballot unit, it ceases to be an independent verification unit. It is important to keep a record of the number of VVPAT slips somewhere. 

Prashant Bhushan, another counsel for the petitioners, took the point further and argued that some programs are fed into the EVMs. The slip seems to be hanging in the VVPAT machine, but it is not cut or it doesn’t fall. And falling is totally possible. So there is uneasiness among the public. Voters should see it cut and fall into the box. VVPAT slips are not counted much. Former Election Commissioner Shahabuddin Yaqoob Quraishi had said that it took less than two days to count the ballot papers. It is also a question of voter confidence. What's wrong with doing this? he questioned.

The judges heard all the arguments from both sides for two days. The judges also agreed in principle that every voter has the right to know whether his vote went to the person he intended to give. But the hearing was adjourned without giving any verdict. Therefore, even after two days of all the detailed discussion on this important issue, there was no outcome.


Idhar Udhar