Source: 
TOI
https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/we-can-go-back-to-paper-ballots-supreme-court-discusses-issues-with-vvpat-system/articleshow/109343118.cms
Author: 
TOI News Desk
Date: 
16.04.2024
City: 
New Delhi

VVPAT is a system that allows voters to verify if their vote has been cast correctly and counted towards the candidate they intended to support. The VVPAT produces a paper slip that is securely stored and can be accessed in case of any disputes or discrepancies. In light of the concerns and doubts raised by the opposition regarding the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) system, petitions have been filed demanding the cross-verification of each vote cast.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday began hearing on a bunch of petitions seeking 100% verification by the voters of votes cast by them in Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) with Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT).

VVPAT is a system that allows voters to verify if their vote has been cast correctly and counted towards the candidate they intended to support.

The VVPAT produces a paper slip that is securely stored and can be accessed in case of any disputes or discrepancies. In light of the concerns and doubts raised by the opposition regarding EVM, petitions were filed demanding the cross-verification of each vote cast.

The top court heard arguments by the petitioners who highlighted concerns regarding EVMs and VVPAT system.

'European examples don't work here'

Prashant Bhushan, counsel for one of the petitioners, contended that the flash memory chip inside an EVM is programmable and a malicious programme can be installed on the machine. "We aren’t saying they are manipulated or have been. We are saying they can be manipulated as both EVM and VVPAT has two kinds of chips," he said.

Bhushan then contended that most European countries had gone back to paper ballot after trying out EVMs. "In fact, a German court has said that EVMs cannot be trusted ... even the Indian top court said there must be a paper trail because EVM cannot be trusted, which is why we have VVPAT," said the advocate.

The court, however, took exception to the argument.

"The population of my home state of West Bengal is more than that of Germany ... European examples don't work here. We need to trust someone. Don't try to bring down the system like this," Justice Dipankar Datta said.

Justice Sanjiv Khanna, meanwhile, said India has 97 crore registered voters. "We are in our 60s. We all know what happened when there were ballot papers. You may have, but we have not forgotten," Justice Khanna said.

Three suggestions

Asked by the court what the petitioners want to ensure fair elections, Bhushan said: "Everything that can protect the system. First paper slip, and then give VVPAT slips to the voter to see it is exactly as he voted for and he can put in the ballot box. In 2017, the redesigned the VVPAT machines, which should have a transparent glass. In 2017, it was changed to opaque mirrored glass, where you can’t see unless a light is lit inside the box, you can’t even see the slip cut and go inside the box. We want the glass to be made transparent."

Bhushan also highlighted that random verification as is being done currently is "meaningless".

"Only 5 machines per assembly constituency are being scrutinised. The percentage of VVPAT scrutiny is 0.00185%. Not even 1% ... it must be close to 50% scrutiny," the senior advocate said, adding: "At least 50% verification is needed to restore the confidence".

Why the hearing is significant

Currently, the VVPAT paper slips of only five randomly selected EVMs in each assembly constituency or assembly segment within a parliamentary constituency undergo physical verification. However, the petitions filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and activist Arun Kumar Agarwal seek to change this practice. Agarwal's petition specifically calls for the counting of all VVPAT slips to ensure the integrity of the voting process.

On April 1, the court had requested responses from both the Election Commission of India and the Centre regarding Agarwal's petition. The outcome of these petitions could potentially lead to significant changes in the way votes are verified and counted in future elections, with the aim of enhancing transparency and addressing the concerns raised by various political parties and activists.

The next hearing on the matter will be on Thursday.

(With inputs from agencies)

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