A Supreme Court bench led by the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi is set to hear on May 7, 2019, a batch of review petitions against its April 8, 2019 order, directing the Election Commission of India (ECI) to increase the physical verification of Voter Verified Paper Trail (VVPAT) slips from one Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) per assembly constituency to five randomly selected EVMs.
One set of review petitions has been filed by opposition leaders led by N. Chandrababu Naidu demanding the verification of 50% of the VVPAT slips, and another by three individuals namely M.G. Devasahayam, Kalarickal Pranchu Fabian and Thomas Franco Rajendra Dev, seeking the verification of 30% of the VVPAT slips.
Review petitioners M.G. Devasahayam and others have contended that the Supreme Court disposed of the petition directing the ECI to merely increase the number of polling stations from one to five per assembly segment without considering the pleadings, averments and the supporting material filed with the original petitions, and the rejoinder filed by them to the two separate counter affidavits filed by the ECI on February 26, 2019 and March 29, 2019.
This failure to consider such relevant pleadings, averments and the very basis of the petition constituted gross miscarriage of justice, they said.
Devasahayam has also mentioned that there had been several reports of EVM malfunctions and numerous instances of mismatch between EVM and VVPAT counts in the first three phases of the general elections currently underway, completely altering the basis of the apex court’s April 8 order.
ECI statement manifestly incorrect
Devasahayam and others pointed out that the order under review had been passed after the ECI had made a manifestly and patently incorrect statement that the report that was annexed with its counter affidavit was an “ISI Report”, suggesting that due process had been followed in engaging the Indian Statistical Institute and that the Institute has submitted the report after duly considering it in their respective governing council or sub-committee meetings.
However, material available with the petitioners, which was obtained only on the morning of April 7, 2019, i.e. a day before the Supreme Court order under review, clearly indicates that there was no institutional engagement of the ISI, but that a Dr. Abhay Bhat from the institute had been engaged in his private capacity.
Further, the assumption that all EVMs behave uniformly had been belied by reports of malfunction linked to the weather, especially heat, in numerous constituencies. What had also been belied by several reports was the ECI’s assertion that EVM and VVPAT counts had matched every time they had been tallied. Available reports had suggested a contrary narrative, necessitating a more rigorous tallying of the counts.
The main purpose behind the introduction of VVPATs is to bring in accuracy, verifiability and transparency in the casting and counting of votes. With VVPATs, voters can verify and satisfy themselves that their vote has been accurately recorded against the candidate they voted for; and that it automatically follows that it is only when the paper slips as verified by the voters are counted that the true purpose behind introduction of VVPATs is served.
By not counting VVPAT paper slips in a significant percentage of polling stations in each constituency, the objectives of verifiability and transparency in the democratic process would remain unrealised, the review petitioners assert.