THE Supreme Court today partly allowed the joint plea filed by 21 opposition party leaders and increased the physical verification of Voter Verified Paper Trail (VVPAT) slips from one Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) per Assembly constituency to five randomly selected EVMs, against the demanded 50% VVPAT slip verification by the opposition leaders in the petition.
A three-judge bench comprising CJI Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna ordered that if the number is increased from one to five for physical verification of VVPAT slips, it would neither require additional manpower nor would it delay the results for the General Elections 2019.
The Court also said that this will “ensure the greatest degree of accuracy and satisfaction in the election process of not only political parties but of voters who should be satisfied”.
In so far as the petition filed by one Sunil Ahya is concerned, the Supreme Court said that at this stage it did not find it appropriate to go into the prayers made in the PIL for an independent review of the software used in Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) and EVM Tracking Software (ETS).
Background of the case
In the first week of February 2019, opposition leaders approached the Election Commission of India to consider their demand of 50% verification of VVPAT slips since, they believed, the EVMs could be tampered with. However, the Election Commission refused to entertain the demand and called it arbitrary.
A petition was then filed before the Supreme Court by 21 opposition party leaders in March 2019, asking for 50% VVPAT slips to be tallied with the voting machines.
The Election Commission in its affidavit had objected the idea of 50% random physical verification of VVPAT slips in each Assembly constituency, saying it would lead to a delay of six days in the declaration of election results. Following this, on April 1, 2019, the Court asked the Opposition party leaders to file a reply within a week.
In the rejoinder filed before the Supreme Court on April 6, 2019, the opposition leaders said that a delay of 5.2 days in declaring poll results was not a serious delay in any manner if public confidence in the integrity of the electoral process increased with 50% VVPATs verification. The opposition leaders submitted that “if the delay of 5.2 days is to balance with the integrity of the electoral process, the balance will certainly tilt towards the latter”.
They also stated that they were not questioning the integrity of the Election Commission or the EVMs. The purpose of this petition, they said, was to raise the issue of public confidence in the integrity of the electoral process.
The Lok Sabha elections are scheduled in seven phases from April 11 to May 19, and the result will be declared on May 23, 2019.