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Supreme Court trashes idea of physical counting of VVPAT slips

'We have seen what used to happen earlier when there were ballot papers,' a Bench led by Justice Sanjiv Khanna said, deferring the hearing to April 18

Supreme Court trashes idea of physical counting of VVPAT slips

The petitioners have demanded a 100 percent count of VVPAT slips as opposed to the current practice of verification of only five randomly-selected EVMs per assembly segment through VVPAT paper slips. File photo



Tribune News Service

Satya Prakash

New Delhi, April 16

Virtually rejecting demands to revert to the system of physical counting of votes or to go for a 100 percent count of VVPAT slips, the Supreme Court on Tuesday said it was not practicable in India where the number of voters was very high and physical counting of votes had its own problems.

“We are in our 60s. We have seen what used to happen earlier when there were ballot papers. You may have, but we have not forgotten,” a Bench of Justice Sanjiv Khanna and Justice Dipankar Datta told advocate Prashant Bhushan after he demanded on behalf of petitioner Association for Democratic Reforms that the Election Commission should revert to the system of physical counting of votes.

“We can go back to paper ballots. Another option is to give VVPAT slips to the voters in hand. Otherwise, the slips fall into the machine… and the slip can be then given to the voter and it can be put into the ballot box,” Bhushan said, demanding physical counting of votes or a 100 per cent counting of VVPAT slips.

VVPAT is an independent vote verification system which enables an elector to see whether his vote has been cast correctly. It generates a paper slip which can be viewed by the voter. It is kept in a sealed cover and can be opened in case of a dispute.

The petitioners have demanded a 100 percent count of VVPAT slips as opposed to the current practice of verification of only five randomly-selected EVMs per assembly segment through VVPAT paper slips.

The Bench deferred the hearing to April 18, a day before the first phase of polling in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

As Bhushan argued that most European countries that had adopted EVMs were back to paper ballots and gave the example of Germany, Justice Datta shot back, “What's Germany's population?

“Let’s not draw analogies from Germany… My home state West Bengal's population is more than that of Germany. We need to repose some trust and faith in somebody. Of course, they are accountable. But don’t try to bring down the system like this. Don't cite such examples. European examples don't work here,” Justice Datta told Bhushan after the latter said that Germany’s population was around six crore.

“Ninety-seven crore is the total number of registered voters in India...” Justice Khanna added.

The Bench also posed several questions on the functioning of EVMs to the Election Commission. “Machines normally without human intervention will give you accurate results. Yes, the problem arises when there is human intervention or (somebody) makes unauthorised changes when they are around the software or machine, if you have any suggestion to avert this, then you can give us that,” the Bench said.

Taking note of the fact that there was no provision for strict punishment for tampering with EVMs. The Bench said, “This is serious. There should be fear of punishment.”

Bhushan was supported by senior advocates Gopal Sankaranarayan, Sanjay Hegde, H Ahmadi and others who said they were not alleging any malice but wanted the system to be such which inspired voters’ confidence in it.

The Bench rejected some private surveys cited by Bhushan to suggest that people didn't trust EVMs, saying “Let us not believe in private polls. Let us go by data. The problem with data is that it must be authentic, not based on opinion but actual performance. We will get the data from the Election Commission.”

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