As EC's hackathon gets underway, Uttarakhand HC issues order prohibiting criticism of EVMs

With of the EVM "hackathon" challenge called by the Election Commission (EC) scheduled to be held in New Delhi on Saturday, the Uttarakhand High Court has clamped down on criticism of the EVMs which were used in the recently concluded Assembly elections.

The court was hearing a PIL filed by Uttarakhand State Congress Committee vice-president Ramesh Pandey, who asked the court to quash the EVM challenge as it was "illegal, ultra vires, unconstitutional and beyond the jurisdiction of Article 324," a report in The Times of India said.

The court did not see any merit in the petition and dismissed it, but it did restrain "all political parties, NGOs and individuals from criticising the use of EVMs in the recently conducted state Assembly elections". The criticism could not be published on any electronic media or the press, radio or social media like Facebook, Twitter etc.

EVMs at a polling booth. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

The two-judge bench hearing the matter, comprising justices Sharad Kumar Sharma and Rajiv Sharma said in its order (available here): "The Election Commission has successfully held the free and fair elections. We cannot permit the political parties to lower down the image and prestige of the constitutional body. The un-called for criticism of the functioning of Election Commission has a deleterious effect on its functioning and the same may result in lowering its morale. The faith of the people in the election process is required to be restored at all costs. Holding of free and fair election is a basic feature of the constitution."

It further held that the EC was not comparable to any other authority, and it was the duty of courts to maintain the independence of constitutional bodies and to insulate them from unhealthy criticism. It also said that the "right of freedom of speech and expression does not permit to level (sic) unsubstantiated charges against the functionaries of the constitutional bodies", and a systematic campaign has been launched by the political parties to tarnish the EC's image.

While discussing the EVM challenge itself, the court said that the EC had invited trouble for itself and they had "fallen in the trap and sailed into uncharted oceans", reported The Times of India. While it left the holding of the EVM challenge to the discretion of the EC, it said that the result "will not affect the outcome of the pending election petitions".

The verdict ends the no-holds barred attack launched by the Aam Aadmi Party according to NDTV. It also makes Arvind Kejriwal's plan to conduct a parallel hackathon on Saturday doubtful. AAP's Saurabh Bharadwaj said that under these rules, even its look-alike EVM could not be tampered.

After the judgement came out, the EC said the challenge — with representatives from the CPM and the NCP taking part in it — is on. The two parties will get separate halls to try and tamper with the machines. The challenge will take place between 10 am and 2 pm. The participants are only allowed to fiddle with the buttons and cannot open the machines.

The judgment seems to be in line with the Sahara guidelines which held that media reporting could be restricted by issuing temporary postponement orders — by invoking the Article 19(2) ground of contempt of court — to protect unwarranted interference with the administration of justice. However the judgement makes no mention of that case.

Updated Date: Jun 03, 2017 11:23 AM

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