ETV Bharat!bharat/vvpat-verification-of-evm-votes-supreme-court-hears-petition-enn24041604114
Sumit Saxena
New Delhi

Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta heard the petitions filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms and others seeking 100% verification of EVM votes with VVPAT slips.

 The Supreme Court on Tuesday began hearing in the petitions seeking 100% verification of EVM votes with VVPAT slips. A bench comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta heard the petitions filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and others.

The pleas seek 100 percent count of VVPAT slips in polls, as opposed to current practice of verification of only five randomly-selected EVMs through VVPAT paper slips.

During the hearing, the Supreme Court said human intervention leads to problems, while pointing issues with the secret ballot voting method. The bench told advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing ADR, “We are in our 60s. We all know what happened when there were ballot papers, you may have, but we have not forgotten….”.

"Human intervention leads to a problem," the court observed, while adding "machines without any human intervention will work properly and it will give an accurate result, and problem arises when there is human intervention."

Bhushan said the court is referring to the incidents of booth capturing. However, the bench said it is pointing at the larger issue and added that the court knows what wrongs happened when voting happened through ballot papers.

Bhushan stressed that Germany had returned to the paper ballots and insisted that the country should go back to the ballot paper system, as EVMs are vulnerable to hacking. He suggested that each VVPAT slip should be given to the voters in hand, and then they can deposit it in the ballot box.

On Germany's example cited by Bhushan, Justice Dipankar Datta asked him what Germany's population was? Bhushan replied that it is around 6 crores, while India has over 50 crore voters.

Bhushan stressed that VVPAT design was changed, and it should have been transparent glass, but now it is an opaque mirror where it is only visible when the light is on for merely 7 seconds. Bhushan says a former election commissioner had said that counting of all the VVPAT slips wouldn’t take more than a few hours.

Bhushan says the majority of voters do not trust EVMs and the EVMs are vulnerable to manipulation. He says they are not showing source code of these chips installed in the EVMS, which is creating greater suspicion on EVMs.

The bench says everybody knows the problems which existed with voting through ballot papers and it is known what wrongs happened by use of ballot papers.

During the hearing, the bench, on Bhushan’s contention that majority of voters do not trust EVMs, said it cannot accept the results of a private poll. “We have to go by the data (regarding EVMs), what is the total number of votes polled….and whether do they tally with votes counted later on. In how many cases there were discrepancies…”. “Let a poll be held to find out whether the majority of countrymen trust the EVM or not, let us not believe in these private polls”, Justice Datta told Bhushan.

Justice Khanna stressed, “Data must be very authentic and not on the basis of opinion but actual performance…ECI should have pointed out that in 95% there was no discrepancy at all…we have asked them for that”. Bhushan said they admit there is a mismatch in some cases. Justice Khanna said: "Yes, it is bound to happen...because of human errors not because of the machine error unless the machine has been manipulated….”.

Bhushan emphasized that in a case if two consecutive votes are cast for a party, then there is a possibility that VVPAT can be manipulated and the companies which manufacture the EVM machines are Electronics Corporation of India Ltd. and Bharat Electronics Ltd, have BJP people as their directors. Another counsel, representing an intervenor, raised the same issue. The bench said, “if it is manufactured by the private sector would he be happy…..if the private sector were to be manufacturing you would have come here ( complaining against the private sector)….”.

The bench, against the backdrop of the large population in the country, raised doubts about Bhushan's contention, citing Germany’s example, that the country should move back to the ballot paper system. "My home state West Bengal has more population than Germany. We need to repose some trust and faith in somebody. Do not try to bring down the system like this," said justice Datta.

Senior advocate Anand Grover said the technical expert committee comprises the same people who are inventors and they can never be unbiased. Senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi said if there is a residuary doubt about info which goes into the machine when the voter presses the button and does not really match with the slip, and if takes couple of hours more to declare the result (by counting all the VVPAT slips) then the court should not stop it . He stressed that the process must not only be fair but seen by all that it is fair and there should be free and fair elections.

Senior advocate Maninder Singh represented the Election Commission of India before the apex court. The apex court posed many queries to Singh: regarding the number of machines on a polling station, their storage, and after the counting is done, can these machines be kept for a technical evaluation or inspection?

Singh said the ECI’s counter affidavit takes into account the use of the machine and what happens after the vote is cast by a voter. Justice Khanna asked after the voting process was completed, are the machines sealed by the representative of the candidates also? The controlling unit remains with the polling officer? The bench also posed queries regarding the software of the machine and the procedure and methodology involved in the whole process of voting.

The bench told the ECI’s counsel that it wants to satisfy that there is no tampering or misuse and further asked the counsel to submit to it each stage from voting to storage and to the counting process, and how complaints are handled post counting. The bench observed that if there is manipulation then what is the punishment, while emphasizing that it is a serious problem. The apex court will continue to hear the matter on April 18.

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