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Review plea by 21 parties to verify more VVPAT votes rejected by Supreme Court in 60 secs

Citing issues with electronic voting machines (EVM) in the first few phases of polling for the Lok Sabha election, 21 opposition parties had filed a review petition in the Supreme Court demanding verification of 50% EVMs using voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) slips.

lok-sabha-elections Updated: May 07, 2019 23:32 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
SC dismisses review petition filed by 21 opposition parties seeking verification of 50% EVMs, VVPATs.
SC dismisses review petition filed by 21 opposition parties seeking verification of 50% EVMs, VVPATs. (AFP File Photo)
         

A Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi on Tuesday refused to entertain a petition from 21 opposition parties that asked for matching the counts of at least half the Electronic Voter Machines used with the output of VVPAT (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail) machines.

The opposition parties wanted the court to review its April 8 order increasing physical verification of VVPAT (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail) machines from one to five Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in each assembly segment of a Lok Sabha constituency. The court dismissed the review petition in minutes.

Andhra Pradesh chief minister and Telugu Desam Party leader N Chandrababu Naidu, one of the opposition leaders who filed the review petition, said: “We are demanding transparency in the election process.”

“EC’s [Election Commission] job is to conduct elections in a transparent manner, what we are asking for is, protect democracy, bring transparency,” he added.

Undaunted by the court’s dismissal of the petition, he said soon after the verdict that the parties planned to go to EC and ask it to review counting guidelines.

Other opposition leaders present in court were the National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah, Communist Party of India leader D Raja, and Congress leader and advocate for the parties Abhishek Manu Singhvi.

Singhvi said later in the day that the parties met the commission and made their point.

“We went to the Election Commission where we pointed out that the Supreme Court is not agreeable to our demand but there is no prohibition on you, the Election Commission, to increase the sample check. The SC has not prohibited the Election Commission . EC agreed on the fact and said it will decide.”

Singhvi added that it was not clear what it would do if it found discrepancies in one of the five matches, or “four of five” or “three of five”. It is important to arrive at a rule for that, he explained. “All these points we made to EC today [Tuesday] evening,” he said.

The parties also filed a memorandum with the Election Commission, demanding counting of the output of all VVPATs in all polling stations, failing which, declaration of results be withheld. The memorandum was signed by several leaders including Naidu, Abdullah, Congress leaders Ahmed Patel and Singhvi, and CPI’s Raja.

Earlier, in court, Singhvi argued that while the petitioners had earlier asked for 50% of physical verification of VVPAT slips, they were now seeking an increase to just 25% in the review petition.

On April 8, the court increased the number of VVPAT machines with whose output the count of EVMs would be matched to five from one, effectively increasing the matching of 2% of the votes cast as against 0.44% earlier.

“We prayed for 50% [of manual verification]. Your Lordships agreed with us on principle, but the order is only to the extent of 2%. We would be happy with even 25 or 33%,” the senior counsel said. Singhvi argued verification of votes would enhance public confidence in the electoral process. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal claimed the bench was misled and the Election Commission had misrepresented the facts before it.

Though the exercise of matching EVM results with paper trail machine slips was being held in various assembly elections, this is the first time it will be undertaken in Lok Sabha polls.

EC opposed increasing the verification percentage saying it would require additional logistics and also delay poll results. The opposition parties disagreed with this and said in their review petition: “The petitioners submit that the aforesaid increase to a mere 2% is not sufficient and will not make any substantial difference to the situation that existed prior to the passing of the impugned order.”

EC had filed an affidavit in the apex court claiming that verification of 50% of votes would delay the announcement of results by six days.

“Even with matching the votes in just five polling stations per assembly constituency the results will be delayed,” said an official aware of developments at the poll body who asked not to be named.

In case of a mismatch in the tally [votes recorded in the VVPAT and the EVM], the results of the VVPAT prevail.

The BJP likened the opposition party’s stand over the functioning of EVMs to an army’s surrender during battle. “The EVM gang has surrendered as they know their fate. They are looking to blame EVMs for their loss when votes are counted on May 23,” Naqvi told reporters outside the EC office.

First Published: May 07, 2019 10:55 IST

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