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Election watchdog had turned down VVPAT count plea

Weeks before the Supreme Court asked the Election Commission (EC) on Friday to respond to a petition by leaders of 21 opposition parties seeking random verification of at least 50% electronic voting machines (EVMs) using the voter verifable paper audit trail (VVPAT) in each assembly segment or constituency, the poll watchdog had last month rejected a demand for similar verification in at least 30% randomly chosen polling stations in each assembly and Lok Sabha constituency.

Asserting its autonomy in the conduct of elections in an affidavit filed in the top court last month, the EC said: “The ultimate decision-making authority on elections rests with the Election Commission of lndia and it cannot be compelled to follow the directives of any particular party or person.”

The affidavit was filed in response to a petition by a retired bureaucrat, M G Devasahayam, and others asking the court to direct the EC to verify EVMs using VVPAT in at least 30% randomly chosen polling stations in each assembly and Lok Sabha constituency, especially in light of the Lok Sabha elections in April-May.

Some political parties say that EVMs are susceptible to tampering. 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 to ensure the vote has gone to the intended candidate.

The poll panel, in its affidavit, added that “the necessity of counting the printed paper slips would only arise if there is any discrepancy between the results as shown by the EVM and as reflected on the printed paper slip” and “it is neither tenable nor proper” that the EC is instructed how to conduct elections. The EC also asserted that such a large verification would not just be time-consuming but also a burden on the exchequer.

“As of 2018, the total number of electors in lndia are 87 crore. And 30% of the same is to be counted, then that would mean that potentially 26 crore VVPAT slips would have to be counted. lt is significant to note herein that physìcal counting/verification of such a huge number of VVPAT slips would entail substantial expenditure and place an additional burden on the exchequer,” the affidavit said. Quoting another judgment of 2013, the EC continued: “It’s also not the opinion of the Supreme Court that the VVPAT printed paper slips needs to be mandatorily counted in respect of all polling stations.”

Jagdeep Chhokar of the Association for Democratic Reforms said, the present formula of counting VVPAT slips of only one randomly selected polling station in each assembly segment in the Lok Sabha polls, which is 0.44%, is not adequate.

First Published:
Mar 17, 2019 00:26 IST

Source: HindustanTimes