SC rejects pleas on 100 pc cross verification of votes cast using EVMs, issue echoes in pollscape

New Delhi, Apr 26 (PTI) As the country voted in round two of Election 2024, the Supreme Court on Friday rejected pleas seeking complete cross-verification of votes cast using EVMs with a Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) and said “blindly distrusting” any aspect of the system can breed unwarranted scepticism.

Weighing in on the intensely debated issue that has long divided parties, a bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta delivered two concurring verdicts and dismissed all the pleas in the matter, including those seeking to go back to ballot papers in elections. It also maintained that “democracy is all about striving to build harmony and trust between all institutions”.

The Supreme Court’s long anticipated verdict quickly found echo in the politicalscape with Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying at a rally in Araria in Bihar that it was a “tight slap” on the Congress-led opposition which now must “apologise” for committing the “sin of creating distrust” against electronic voting machines.

The Congress on its part said in a post on X that it will continue with its political campaign on greater use of VVPATs to increase public trust in the electoral process.

The apex court issued two directives on the matter.

Pronouncing his verdict, Justice Khanna directed the Election Commission to seal and store units used to load symbols for 45 days after the symbols have been loaded to electronic voting machines in strong rooms.

The apex court also allowed engineers of the EVM manufacturers to verify the microcontroller of the machines after declaration of the results on the request of candidates who stood second and third.

Request for the verification of the microcontroller can be made within seven days of declaration of the results after payment of fees, the court said.

“If EVM is found tampered during verification, fees paid by the candidates will be refunded,” it said.

An EVM comprises three units — ballot unit, control unit and the VVPAT. All three are embedded with microcontrollers which have a burnt memory from the manufacturer.

Currently, the Election Commission conducts random matching of VVPAT slips with EVMs at five polling booths per assembly constituency.

“While maintaining a balanced perspective is crucial in evaluating systems or institutions, blindly distrusting any aspect of the system can breed unwarranted scepticism…,” Justice Datta said.

The bench suggested the poll panel can examine whether electronic machines can be used for counting VVPAT slips and also whether bar codes can be used for parties along with their symbols.

Besides seeking to return to the ballot paper system, the three petitions before it had prayed that VVPAT slips should be given to the voter to verify and put in the ballot box for counting and there should be 100 per cent counting of VVPAT slips, the bench said.

“We have rejected all of them,” Justice Khanna said.

A few hours later, the prime minister referred to the verdict in his Araria rally.

“When the Congress, the RJD and other INDIA bloc parties were in power, the poor, backwards and Dalits used to be deprived of their votes through booth capture. With the introduction of Electronic Voting Machines, they are no longer able to play their old game. Hence, they committed the sin of creating distrust against EVMs,” he said.

Union Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal described the decision as “fabulous”.

He said the Supreme Court’s ruling has exposed opposition parties, including the Congress, which had left no opportunity to “defame” the Election Commission.

“The Supreme Court in its decision said the EVM system is alright, it’s credible and there cannot be any tampering with it. We welcome this decision on behalf of the BJP,” Meghwal told reporters.

Election Commission officials pointed out that constitutional courts had rejected petitions challenging the reliability of the electronic voting machines on at least 40 occasions.

The functionaries also referred to Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar’s recent remarks that EVMs are “100 per cent safe” and political parties know in the “heart of their hearts” that the machines are fair.

“Political parties have come into existence due to EVMs. There are many smaller parties, which in the age of ballot paper, might not have come into existence,” he had said.

Hearing the matter on April 24, the apex court bench said it cannot “control the elections” or issue directions simply because doubts have been raised about the efficacy of EVM.

The petitions claimed the polling devices can be tinkered with to manipulate the results.

NGO Association for Democratic Reforms, one of the petitioners, had sought reversal of the poll panel’s 2017 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.

The petitioners also sought the court’s direction to revert to the old system of ballot papers.

To enhance transparency and verifiability in the poll process, the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 were amended in 2013 to introduce the use of VVPAT machines. They were first used in the by-election to the Noksen assembly seat in Nagaland.

Phase two of the Lok Sabha elections covers 88 seats in 13 states and union territories. The seven-phase Lok Sabha polls began on April 19 and will conclude with the announcement of results on June 4. PTI ABA MNL NAB SKC PK PKD NAC MIN

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