The Hindu

The petitions wanted the poll body to publish online ‘Form 17C data,’ which contains the absolute number of votes polled in a booth. However, the Bench flagged that the interim prayer raised is similar to the relief sought in a 2019 pending writ petition on the issue.

The Supreme Court on May 24 refused to pass any interim order on a petition filed by the NGO Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) seeking a direction to the Election Commission of India (ECI) to upload polling station-wise voter turnout data on its website within 48 hours of the conclusion of polling for each phase of the Lok Sabha elections

A vacation Bench of Justices Dipankar Datta and Satish Chandra Sharma observed that prima facie it appears the prayers in the interlocutory application are similar to the main petition pending since 2019 on the issue. The judges however clarified that no opinion has been expressed on the merits of the case. 

“Granting any relief in IA will amount to granting relief in the main petition which is pending,” Justice Datta said. The judge ordered the matter to be listed before the regular Bench after the court vacations in July. 

The ADR in its application had flagged a sizeable difference in the initial turnout figures released by the poll body soon after the conclusion of polling and the final voter percentages published subsequently.

The alleged irregularities have also resulted in Opposition leaders and civil society members demanding the publication of Part I of Form 17C (Account of votes recorded) data on the poll body’s website. Under Rule 49S(2) of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 a presiding officer is mandated to furnish a copy of the entries made in Form 17C to the polling agents of the candidates at the close of polling. 

Notably, in an affidavit filed before the apex court, the ECI maintained there was no “legal mandate” to provide the voter turnout data to any person other than electoral candidates or their agents. It also claimed that the disclosure of data on the “Voter Turnout App” is a “voluntary” and “non-statutory” initiative intended for transparency and public facilitation.

Casting aspersions on ADR’s motive, the poll body said there was a “consistent mala fide campaign to raise doubts against the EC in every possible way by voicing misleading allegations”.

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