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The poll panel was told to respond within a week to a plea seeking that it share a complete account of votes polled after each phase of the Lok Sabha election.

The Supreme Court on Friday asked the Election Commission to explain its inability to release absolute voter turnout figures immediately after each phase of the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, reported Bar and Bench.

A bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra was hearing an application filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms, a non-governmental organisation.

The organisation is seeking the immediate release of absolute voter turnout numbers by the poll body. There was a delay in the publishing this data after the first two phases of polling phases.

The court directed the Election Commission to respond to the petition within a week, according to Live Law.

On April 30, the Election Commission published the final voter turnout percentage for the first two phases of the general election. While the first phase recorded a turnout of 66.14%, the second phase recorded a figure of 66.71%. However, the panel did not release the absolute number of voters in each constituency.

The final figures, for both phases, were substantially higher than the Election Commission’s initial estimates. The data was released more than 10 days after the first phase and four days after the second phase of polling.

On Friday, advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing the Association for Democratic Reforms, said the Election Commission should release the absolute numbers of votes polled.

However, advocate Amit Sharma, representing the Election Commission, questioned the position of the petitioner. “We do everything transparently,” said Sharma. “How is the petitioner aggrieved, not the candidate.”

In response, Bhushan told the court that citizens were aggrieved.

Senior Advocate Maninder Singh, also representing the poll panel, said that the claims made in the petition were false. He referred to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on Electronic Voting Machines.

On April 26, the Supreme Court rejected petitions seeking the tallying of all Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail slips to verify votes cast through Electronic Voting Machines.

A Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail is a machine that prints a paper slip of the candidate’s name, serial number and the party’s symbol after people have cast their vote. To avoid election fraud, it displays the paper slip for seven seconds for people to check if their vote has been cast correctly.

The paper slip then drops down to a locked compartment that only the polling agent can access.

“This [current petition] is an absolutely false allegation,” Singh told the bench on Friday. “Justice Khanna and Datta had dealt with it in detail [in its ruling on the Electronic Voting machine].”

Bhushan, in response, said that the issues raised in the current petition were different from the previous one.

Singh also said that multiple phases of the elections had been completed. “This is not the time, with utmost respect,” he said.

The bench, however, said it would be unfair if it does not hear the petition. It also questioned the difficulty in publishing the absolute voter turnout figures. “What is the difficulty to put it on the [Election Commission] website?” Chandrachud asked the counsel for the poll panel.

“It takes time,” Sharma said. “We have to collect a lot of data.”

The bench replied: “But every polling officer submits data on the [Election Commission] app by evening? So returning officer has data of full constituency by the end of the day.”

However, the counsel for the poll panel said that the data was not available immediately. The court, in response, said: “Okay, the next day.”

The bench then directed the Election Commission to file its reply to the petition in a week and listed the case for further hearing on May 24.

The petition

The Association for Democratic Reforms said in its petition that there was a discrepancy of more than 5% in the final voter turnout figures as compared to the initial data released on the polling day.

“The data as published by the ECI [Election Commission] in its press release dated April 30, 2024 shows a sharp increase [by about 5%-6%] as compared to the initial percentages announced by ECI as of 7 pm on the day of polling,” the petition said.

The delay in the release of final voter turnout data, coupled with the unusually high revised figures and the absence of absolute numbers at the constituency and polling station level, has aroused public suspicion regarding the correctness of the data, the organisation said, adding that these apprehensions must be addressed “in order to uphold the voter’s confidence”.

The petition sought a direction from the Supreme Court asking the Election Commission to upload copies of Form 17C (Part I) from all polling stations immediately after the voting concludes in each phase of the elections.

The Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, requires presiding officers to prepare an account of votes recorded in Form 17C (Part I) and record the number of votes in favour of each candidate.

The non-governmental organisation has sought tabulated voter turnout data from each constituency and polling station in absolute numbers.

It also sought a direction to the poll panel to “upload on its website scanned legible copies of Form 17C (Part- II), which contains the candidate-wise result of counting after the compilation of results of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections”.

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