The Statesman
Parmod Kumar
New Delhi

Adopting a “hands off” approach in the midst of the ongoing general election, the court noted that polling for the five phases is already over, and the sixth one will go to polls on Saturday.

The Supreme Court on Friday declined to pass any direction to the Election Commission on a plea by the Association for Democratic Reforms seeking publication of polling booth-wise voter turnout data.

Adopting a “hands off” approach in the midst of the ongoing general election, the court noted that polling for the five phases is already over, and the sixth one will go to polls on Saturday.

Refusing to pass order as sought by the NGO Association for Democratic Reforms by its May 9, application, a vacation bench of Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Satish Chandra Sharma adjourned the hearing (on the application), noting that the prayer ‘B’ in the main petition filed by ADR in 2019 is similar to the prayer ‘A’ in the application filed by it (ADR) on May 9, 2024.

The “hands-off” approach is needed in the middle of the election process, observed the apex court while adjourning the application, the bench said.

Adjourning the hearing on the application, the vacation bench said, “Prima facie we are not inclined to grant any interim relief since prayer B of the 2019 petition is similar to prayer A of the 2024 application. List the both main petition and application before an appropriate bench after (summer) vacation.”

At the outset of the hearing, the Election Commission questioned the maintainability of the application by the NGO ADR stating that it has been filed after April 26 judgment where in all the issues including g form 17 C data were dealt with.

The Commission said that NGO ADR approached the top court without referring to April 26, 2024, judgment. Byn the said judgment, the Supreme Court, finding no flaws in the working of the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), rejected the plea for 100% cross verification of EVM votes with the VVPAT slips.

Deprecating the repeated filing of applications by the NGO ADR in the midst of the elections based on “unfounded apprehensions and susp8icition”, senior advocate Maninder Singh appearing for the Election Commission said that “continuous questioning of the election process” has a discouraging effect on the voter’s turnout as was witnessed in the initial phases, which, now was showing upward trend. He blamed the discouraging voters’ turnout in the initial phases on such approaching of the top court on by the “vested” interests.

Maninder Singh said that such an attitude is causing damage to the public interest by always putting a question mark on the sanctity of the elections.

Earlier, the poll panel had in an affidavit told the top court that voter turnout data based on Form 17C (records of votes polled in each polling station) will cause confusion among voters as it will also include postal ballot counts. The poll panel had contended that there is no legal right that can be claimed seeking the publication of final authenticated data of voter turnout at all polling stations.

On May 17, the top court had sought the Election Commission’s response on NGO ADR’s plea seeking uploading the details of the votes polled, recorded at all the polling stations after the close of polling of each phase in the ongoing 2024 Lok Sabha election including figures released by the returning officer of each Lok Sabha constituency.

Pointing to the inordinate delay in the publication of final voter turnout data of the first two phases of the ongoing election – by 11 days and 4 days respectively – the applicant NGO ADR had said that there was a sharp spike in figures of the final voter turnout percentages compared to initial voter turnout percentage released by the Election Commission.

The ADR had sought a direction to the Election Commission to provide tabulated polling station-wise data in absolute figures of the number of votes polled as recorded, in Form 17C Part- I, after each phase of polling in the ongoing 2024 Lok Sabha elections and also a tabulation of constituency-wise figures of voter turnout in absolute numbers in the on-going 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

It had further asked for directions for uploading on the ECI website the scanned legible copies of Form 17C Part- II which contained the candidate-wise result of counting after the compilation of results of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

The application had said the voter turnout data for the first two phases of the Lok Sabha elections were published by the ECI on April 30, after 11 days of the first phase of polling held on April 19 and four days after the second phase of polling held on April 26.

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