SC refuses to direct EC to upload voter turnout data amid LS polls, says ‘hands-off approach’ needed

New Delhi, May 24 (PTI) The Supreme Court on Friday refused an NGO’s plea to issue the Election Commission directions to upload polling station-wise voter turnout data on its website during the Lok Sabha polls, saying a “hands-off approach” needs to be adopted during the elections.

A vacation bench of Justices Dipankar Datta and Satish Chandra Sharma said it cannot issue any such directions at the moment as five phases of polling have concluded and two remain and it would be difficult for the poll panel to mobilise manpower.

The top court adjourned the interlocutory application (IA) filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) to be listed before the regular bench after the elections and pointed out that prima facie it appears the prayers in the application are similar to the main petition pending since 2019 on the issue.

“This (IA) has to be taken with the pending writ petition because in between the elections, a hands-off approach has to be adopted,” it said and pointed out that it would be difficult for the EC to mobilise manpower for uploading the voter turnout data on its website.

“Granting any relief in IA will amount to granting relief in the main petition which is pending,” the bench said.

It said it needs to understand the ground reality and not overburden the poll panel by changing the process midway.

On May 17, the top court had sought within a week the EC’s response on the NGO’s plea seeking a direction to upload polling station-wise voter turnout data on its website within 48 hours of the conclusion of polling for each phase of the Lok Sabha elections.

The ADR has filed an interim application in its 2019 PIL seeking directions to the poll panel that “scanned legible copies of Form 17C Part-I (Account of Votes Recorded)” of all polling stations be uploaded immediately after the polls.

In its affidavit, the poll panel opposed the NGO’s demand, stating that it will “vitiate” the electoral space and cause “chaos” in the poll machinery in the midst of the general elections.

The poll panel has said that there is no legal mandate to provide Form 17C to any person other than the candidate or his agent.

It has said that public posting of Form 17C — which gives the number of votes polled in a polling station — is not provided in the statutory framework and could lead to mischief and vitiation of the entire electoral space as it increases the possibility of the images being morphed.

“The petitioner is trying to create an entitlement when none exists in the law by way of filing an application in the middle of the election period. It is respectfully reiterated that for credible multiple practical reasons, the result as per the statutory mandate, is declared on the basis of the data contained in Form 17C at the time as prescribed under the statutory rule regime in existence,” it said.

It further said that “indiscriminate disclosure” of polling station-wise voter turnout data and posting it on a website will cause chaos in the election machinery which is already in motion for the ongoing Lok Sabha elections.

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