VVPAT: ‘We can’t control elections’, Supreme Court tells petitioners : The Tribune India

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VVPAT: ‘We can’t control elections’, Supreme Court tells petitioners

The Bench, which has already reserved its verdict, told the petitioners that EVM source code can’t be disclosed

VVPAT: ‘We can’t control elections’, Supreme Court tells petitioners

Photo for representational purpose only. PTI file



Tribune News Service

Satya Prakash

New Delhi, April 24

Maintaining that it can’t control elections, the Supreme Court on Wednesday wondered if it can issue an order on petitions seeking a 100% cross-verification of votes cast using EVMs with VVPAT merely on the basis of suspicion.

“Can we issue a mandamus on the basis of suspicion? The report you are relying on says that there is no incident of hacking yet. We are not the controlling authority of another constitutional authority (Election Commission. We can’t control the elections,” a Bench of Justice Sanjiv Khanna and Justice Dipankar Dutta said.

Six days after reserving verdict on petitions seeking a 100% cross-verification of votes cast using EVMs with VVPAT, the Bench called a senior Election Commission official again for clarifications on certain aspects of functioning of EVM and VVPAT.

The EC official told the Bench that micro-controllers installed in the machines were one-time programmable and they can’t be changed.

The Bench, which has already reserved its verdict, told the petitioners that EVM source code can’t be disclosed.

After interacting with the EC officials, the Bench said it would consider issuing directions to strengthen the EVMs system as going back to ballot paper was out of the question.

As advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing Association for Democratic Reforms, kept raising doubts over EVMs, the Bench said, “The judgment of Supreme Court did say VVPAT and it was followed. But where did it say match all slips? It says 5 percent. Now, let’s see if any candidate apart from this 5 percent say that there are instances of misuse.”

“Everything can’t be suspected,” the Supreme Court had on April 18 told petitioners seeking a 100% cross-verification of votes cast through EVMs with Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) as it reserved its verdict on the contentious issue.

“Now you're going too far. Everything can't be suspected. You can't be critical of everything...please also appreciate if they have done something good. We heard you because we are also concerned,” the Bench had told Bhushan.

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 -- ADR and others -- 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. They have sought measures to ensure that votes are “recorded as cast” and “counted as recorded”.

They have also sought reversal of the EC's 2017 decision to replace the transparent glass on VVPAT machines with an opaque glass through which a voter can see the slip only when the light is on for seven seconds.

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 top court had earlier 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,” the Bench had told Bhushan after he demanded that the EC should revert to the system of physical counting of votes.

Supreme Court’s question: Is there a micro controller installed in the control unit or VVPAT?

Election Commission’s reply: All three units -- ballot units, VVPAT and the chip have their own micro controllers which are housed in a secured place that can’t be accessed.

SC’s question: Is the micro controller one time programmable?

EC’s reply: Micro controllers are one-time programmable. The program is burnt when they are manufactured. They can never be changed.

SC’s question: How many Symbol Loading Units (SLUs) are available? How much time does it take to manufacture SLUs?

EC’s reply: Electronic Corporation of India Ltd (ECIL) and Bharat Electronics Limited (BHEL) manufacture EVMs. ECIL has 1,904 Symbol Loading Units, BHEL has about 3,154. Components are available. Manufacturing more SLUs would take a month.

SC’s question: EC said limitation period for filing election petitions is 30 days so EVMs are kept for 45 days. However, according to the Representation of People Act, it’s 45 days. Please clarify.

EC’s reply: EVMs are stored for 45 days in strong rooms. After a 45-day statutory period, EC writes to the HC registrars. If election petitions are filed, strong rooms are opened. If not, they are kept locked and sealed. Nobody touches it.

SC’s question: Are EVM, VVPAT, control units stored together or kept separately?

EC’s reply: Control Unit is sealed (with pink seal) at the time of First-Level Checking of EVMs. At the time of commissioning of EVMs and after the polling is over, all three - Ballot Unit, Control Unit and VVPAT - are sealed. After second randomization and commissioning, all three are stored together in the strong room as a unit. After polling, a green paper seal is applied.

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