Voters at a polling station during the second phase of Lok Sabha elections in Rajasthan’s Barmer, on Friday (Photo: Reuters)

The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed pleas for the 100 per cent verification of voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) slips with the electronic voting machine count, holding that suspicions regarding tampering of EVMs were “unfounded”. This implies that polling will proceed as usual, with all voting machines connected to their respective VVPAT units.

It, however, issued directions to seal and store symbol loading units, and also paved the way for verification of microcontrollers embedded in EVMs on the request of candidates who stand second and third.

“In our considered opinion, EVMs are simple, secure, and user-friendly. The voters, candidates and their representatives, and the officials of the ECI (Election Commission of India) are aware of the nitty-gritty of the EVM system. They also check and ensure righteousness and integrity. Moreover, the incorporation of the VVPAT system fortifies the principle of vote verifiability, thereby enhancing the overall accountability of the electoral process,” said the Bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta.


The court ruled that mere suspicion of a mismatch in votes cast through EVMs, leading to a demand for a 100 per cent VVPAT slip verification, is not sufficient ground for the present set of writ petitions to be considered maintainable. “While maintaining a balanced perspective is crucial in evaluating systems or institutions, blindly distrusting any aspect of the system can breed unwarranted scepticism,” it said, adding that democracy is all about striving to build harmony and trust between all institutions.

The Bench said: “We must reject as foible and unsound the submission to return to the ballot paper system. The weakness of the ballot paper system is well known and documented.” 

Under the current provisions, VVPAT slips of five randomly selected Assembly constituencies or segments would be counted to verify with the count of the EVMs.

The Association for Democratic Reforms, which was one of the petitioners in this case, had sought a 100 per cent counting of VVPAT slips.

However, the court stated that “to only further strengthen the integrity of the election process”, it has directed that on completion of the symbol loading process in the VVPATs undertaken on or after May 1 2024, the symbol loading units (SLUs) shall be sealed and secured in a container. Candidates or their representatives shall sign the seal. The sealed containers shall be kept in the strong room along with EVMs for at least 45 days after the declaration of results. They shall be opened, examined and dealt with as in the case of EVMs.

SLUs are memory units that are first connected to a computer to load election symbols onto it, and then used to enter symbols of the candidates on VVPAT machines. Now, they will be stored for 45 days in case someone files a petition questioning it.

The court also directed that the burnt memory/microcontroller in 5 per cent of EVMs, that is, the control unit, ballot unit, and the VVPAT, per assembly constituency/assembly segment of a parliamentary constituency shall be checked and verified by a team of engineers from the manufacturers of EVMs, after the announcement of the results, for any tampering or modification. This will be on written requests by candidates who are in second or third place. 

Such candidates or their representatives shall identify EVMs by the polling station or serial number. All the candidates and their representatives shall have the option to remain present at the time of verification. Such a request should be made within seven days from the date of declaration of the result.

The district election officer, in consultation with the team of engineers, shall certify the authenticity/intactness of the burnt memory/microcontroller after the verification process is conducted. The actual cost or expenses for the said verification will be notified by the ECI, and the candidate making the request will pay for such expenses. The expenses will be refunded, in case the EVM is found to be tampered with.  

Barcode on VVPAT 

During the course of hearing, it was suggested that instead of physically counting VVPAT slips, they could be counted by a counting machine. The court said that this suggestion, including the suggestion that barcoding of the symbols loaded in VVPATs may be helpful in machine counting, may be examined by the ECI. “These are technical aspects, which will require evaluation and study, and hence we would refrain from making any comment either way,” the Bench said.

The judgment said that blindly distrusting any aspect of the system can breed unwarranted scepticism and impede progress. “Instead, a critical yet constructive approach, guided by evidence and reason, should be followed to make room for meaningful improvements and to ensure the system’s credibility and effectiveness,” the court said.

Dubbing the judgment a “tight slap” to the Congress-led Opposition, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while addressing an election rally in Bihar, asked it “apologise” for committing the “sin” of creating distrust about EVMs.

Congress leader Pawan Khera, on the other hand, told reporters the Opposition would like to ask Modi whether BJP leader L K Advani was wrong in releasing a book authored by BJP leader G V L Narasimha Rao questioning the reliability of EVMs.


First Published: Apr 26 2024 | 7:46 PM IST

Source link