Source: 
Money Control
https://www.moneycontrol.com/elections/lok-sabha-election/sc-refuses-to-pass-interim-order-on-release-of-booth-wise-voter-turnout-plea-article-12730954.html
Author: 
S.N.THYAGARAJAN
Date: 
24.05.2024
City: 

The court said that the interim application asked for similar relief as the main writ petition and hence it was adjourned it to another date. The SC said passing an order in this plea will amount to passing an order in the main plea.

The Supreme Court on Friday refused to pass an immediate order in the  application filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) seeking booth-wise voter turnout data.

The non-government organisation (NGO) sought a direction to the Election Commission of India (ECI) to upload polling station-wise voter turnout data on its website within 48 hours of conclusion of polling for each phase of the Lok Sabha elections.

The court deferred the hearing in the 2019 plea. It said that the interim application asked for similar relief as the main writ petition and hence it was adjourned it to another date. The SC said passing an order in this plea will amount to passing an order in the main plea. The court noted that the elections are now at an advanced stage and it would be appropriate for them to maintain a 'hands-off' approach under these circumstances.

During the course of the hearing, senior advocate Maninder Singh argued extensively on the maintainability of the application and how ADR has essentially sought for a final order by filing this interim application. "Please see the maintainability and the conduct of the petitioner. When elections are going on these continuous petitions on the basis of just apprehension etc.. This is a classic case of suspicion and erode the integrity of the Election commission of India,” he said.

Singh further argued that the whole plea is based on "suspicion, apprehension and false allegation". He argued that ADR was manufacturing plea after plea against the ECI without any basis. He also cited the apex court's judgment in the VVPAT case from April which had questioned the bonafides of ADR.

On hearing Singh, the court questioned ADR about the interim plea being similar to the final plea, the court also expressed its apprehension about the timing of the plea. "See prayer B of the 2019 plea and prayer A of the interim application of 2024... Keep them side by side. Earlier decisions of the Supreme Court stare at your face and say you cannot do this and one judgment of 1985 holds that it can be done but in very exceptional cases," the bench pointed out.

Despite attempts by senior advocates Dushyant Dave and AM Singhvi, who appeared for the petitioners, to convince the court that the case was not an adversarial litigation, the court refused to hear them on interim orders and thereby  adjourned the hearing of the plea.

On May 22, the ECI filed an affidavit vehemently opposing the plea. According to it, there exists no legal entitlement to demand the publication of final authenticated data regarding voter turnout in all polling stations.

The poll panel asserted that the release of voter turnout information derived from Form 17C (votes cast in each polling station) could lead to voter confusion, as it would encompass counts from postal ballots as well.

In the affidavit, the ECI has questioned the bonafides of the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and alleged that it undertakes "consistent malafide campaign/design/efforts to keep on raising suspicion and doubt in every possible manner and by misleading assertions and baseless allegations regarding the conduct of elections by the Election Commission of India".

According to ECI, a complete disclosure of Form 17C can cause mischief and vitiation of the entire electoral space. "In any electoral contest, the margin of victory may be very close. In such cases, disclosure of Form 17C in public domain may cause confusion in the minds of the voters with regard to the total votes polled as the latter figure would include the number of votes polled as per Form 17C as well as the votes received through postal ballots."

The affidavit noted that such differences might be difficult to understand and may be used by persons with motivated interests to cast aspersion on the whole electoral process, thereby causing chaos.

On May 17, the apex court asked the poll panel to respond to the ADR's application in its 2019 PIL, seeking directions to the poll panel that "scanned legible copies of Form 17C Part-I (Account of Votes Recorded)" of all polling stations be uploaded immediately after the polls.

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