No institution should resist improvement, says Supreme Court in VVPAT case
The Supreme Court on Monday pulled up the Election Commission (EC) for seemingly resisting a suggestion by opposition parties that the random physical verification of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) slips in the upcoming elections be increased, and asked the poll watchdog to file an affidavit in the matter.
The apex court was hearing a petition filed by leaders of 21 political parties after first taking up on March 15 the plea seeking random verification of at least half the EVMs using VVPAT slips in each assembly segment or assembly constituency.
On Monday, the SC said the commission should explain in its affidavit by 4pm on March 28 if VVPAT samples can be increased for the “satisfaction of the electorate”. “No institution, including judiciary, can insulate itself from suggestion for improvement,” Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi told the EC — represented by deputy election commissioner Sudeep Jain — which seemed to oppose the petition.
The bench told the election watchdog to state the basis of Jain’s suggestion that there was no need to expand the sample matching process. The court will take up the matter on April 1.
In the plea, the leaders of political parties asked the court to quash the commission’s notification that provided for a paper audit trail in only one randomly selected polling station in each constituency.
The bench told Jain that the court wanted the number of samples to increase, adding that it was not a question of “casting aspersion” but a matter of “satisfaction.”
“If you are so up-to-date with protocols and processes then, why did not Election Commission introduce VVPAT on its own and brought it only after the court’s orders?” the CJI asked, referring to the top court’s 2013 verdict introducing VVPATs. In its judgment, the court had held that the VVPAT was an indispensable requirement to hold fair elections. The CJI also reminded the EC official about how the commission had opposed the court’s direction for VVPATs.
VVPAT machines, attached to EVMs, display the name of the candidate and his/her symbol on a piece of paper after a vote is cast. The voter can see the paper through a glass display for seven seconds before it drops into a sealed container. While announcing the schedule of this summer’s general elections, the EC announced that VVPATs will be used in all polling stations along with EVMs.
“Can you increase the sample matching? We would like to increase it,” the CJI said to Jain when the hearing began on Monday.
The court also asked EC to list the possible difficulties in the process of increased verification and the time the process will take. After Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Congress leader and the counsel for the petitioners, said that it will not take more than five hours, CJI Gogoi said the bench desired a response from EC.
Singhvi appeared for the petitioners, including Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, former Union minister and Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien, and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav.
The leaders approached the top court after the poll body refused to accept their representation in February. The EC is awaiting a report from the Indian Statistical Institute on an adequate sample for matching the votes in EVMs with those in VVPATs.
An EC official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the commission will file its response in compliance with the court’s direction.
A response from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was not immediately available.