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21 opposition parties move Supreme Court over paper trail verification in Lok Sabha polls

The leaders asked the court to quash the EC’s notification that made paper audit trail checks mandatory in just one polling station in an assembly constituency.

lok sabha elections Updated: Mar 14, 2019 23:02 IST
Bhadra Sinha
Bhadra Sinha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Lok Sabha election,Supreme court,Election Commission
Opposition parties have moved the Supreme Court seeking mandatory verification of 50 per cent votes by paper trail in the Lok Sabha elections. (Sunil Saxena/HT File Photo)(HT photo)

The Supreme Court will on Friday hear a petition filed by leaders from 21 different political parties, including Andhra Pradesh chief minister (CM) Chandrababu Naidu, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar and former Uttar Pradesh CM Akhilesh Yadav, urging the court to direct the Election Commission for random verification of at least 50% of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) using the voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) in every assembly segment or assembly constituency.

The leaders asked the court to quash the EC’s notification that made paper audit trail checks mandatory in just one polling station in an assembly constituency. A bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi will take up petition. Senior advocate and Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi is expected to argue the case for the petitioners.

The leaders quoted the SC’s 1975 verdict in the Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain case to bolster their argument that free and fair elections are part of basic structure of the Constitution. In a 2013 judgment, the SC held that VVPAT is an indispensable requirement of free and fair elections, thereby, argue the petitioners, making the system inherent and intrinsic to the very basic structure.

“The impugned guideline by EC hits at the basic structure of the constitution making VVPAT completely ineffective and merely ornamental in nature. It reduces the safeguards and substantive essence of the judgements of the top court. 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 to a constitutional provision,” stated the petition.

VVPAT machines, attached to EVMs, display the name of the candidate and his symbol on a paper after a vote is cast. The voter can see the paper through a glassed display for six seconds before it drops into a sealed container. While announcing the schedule of this summer’s general elections on Sunday, the EC had announced that VVPATs will be used in all polling stations along with EVMs.

The leaders approached the top court after the poll body refused to accept their representation in February.

The SC had, in January, issued a notice to the EC on a similar petition filed by a former IAS officer MG Devasahayam, ex-diplomat K.P. Fabian and retired banker Thomas Franco Rajendra Dev asking the court to direct the poll body to verify the counts of EVMs and VVPAT units in at least 30% randomly chosen polling stations in each assembly and Lok Sabha constituency.

The EC is awaiting a report from the Indian Statistical Institute on what will be an adequate sample for matching the votes in EVMs with those in VVPATs.

A former EC official said the commission had concerns about increasing the matching to meet the demand of the opposition, since it would cause a delay in the announcement of results.

First Published: Mar 14, 2019 19:43 IST