Gujarat polls: Supreme Court declines to interfere in VVPAT verification, says Congress can file proper plea to seek poll reform

The Supreme Court has dismissed the Congress party's plea seeking its intervention in the counting of votes for Gujarat Assembly election. Congress, raising doubts over the veracity of EVMs, had asked for an apex court order directing the Election Commission to tally at least 25 percent of the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trails (VVPAT) with the EVM votes.

The court, however, refusing to intervene, told the party that it can file a "proper plea" seeking reforms in the polling process. Congress leaders and senior lawyers Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi were arguing the case for their party in the top court.

Represntational image. News18

Represntational image. News18

The top court had dismissed a similar plea earlier in November too.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra refused pass any order on a writ petition challenging the discretionary power of a returning officer, who is entitled to refuse counting of the paper trail from VVPAT machines. The apex court said no "advance ruling" can be given in the matter and in case of any dispute over the result of the poll, the challenge can be made by way of a poll petition.

The Gujarat Congress plea had come after it raised concerns over allegations of EVM tampering but the Election Commission had rejected the charges. According to several reports, there were complaints of Bluetooth devices being connected to EVMs. Senior Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia had complained that three EVMs were seen connected to Bluetooth devices and he sent the complaint to the ECI along with screenshots backing his complaint.

The party had earlier too demanded that the counting process in the Gujarat Assembly election should be overseen by a retired Supreme Court judge. Latching on to the reports of EVMs malfunctioning in the Uttar Pradesh civic polls, the party had said that only an independent review of EVMs can ensure fair conduct of elections in Gujarat, adding that the use of VVPAT would not be enough to ensure free and fair poll if the EVMs were "rigged".

Responding to the allegations, the Election Commission had said that an inquiry found that the apprehension about possible EVM tampering through Bluetooth technology, raised by Congress, was baseless.

The device which the complainant's mobile phone detected after putting on Bluetooth was not an Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) but a mobile phone, carried by a polling agent, the commission said.

"A polling agent named Manoj Singrakhiya was carrying the mobile phone. He was in the close vicinity of the phone of the complainant...The complainant might have thought that 'EC' in ECO stands for Election Commission," Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) BB Swain said.

A senior poll panel official also told PTI that the attachment of a second line of verification through VVPATs to the EVM has "left no rooms for doubts" since voters can physically verify who they vote for.

"With the introduction of VVPAT, nothing is left to doubt because the printed paper slip is like a ballot paper slip," Kumar said.

The BJP also maintained that the allegations by Congress showed they were in "search for an excuse" as it knew that it would bite the dust in the election.

Meanwhile, the talks about EVM tampering also had several voters, especially from the Muslim community. According to PTI, EVM — described as the "devil" by one worried voter — was the hot topic of discussion among the people.

With the circulation of messages on social media sites about EVMs being tampered with, many in the border district of Chhota Udaipur feared their votes might be transferred to other candidates.

“Our vote is the only power we have and if somebody changes it, what are we left with in a democracy?” asked 57-year-old Sayed Mala, a small-time construction contractor.

Educated sections of the people, with access to social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook, were more worried about EVMs than the others. "I know who I will vote for. But I am not assured if it will be counted in his favour. But with a ballot paper, my vote can’t be changed,” said Kalol college student Sultan Hussain.

Another constituent said he was not convinced about the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT), a process to verify that the vote cast had gone to the candidate concerned. Farooq Sayeed from Timla village in Chhota Udaipur compared EVMs with the “devil”. "There are so many videos of EVMs being tampered with on social media. My vote can be changed," he said.

The worries about the machines were not largely shared by Hindu voters. Narendra Sinh Bari, a 38-year-old man who runs a mobile shop, said any method could trigger doubts. "We should trust the machines," he said.

With inputs from PTI

Updated Date: Dec 15, 2017 17:23 PM

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