The Supreme Court on Friday declined to entertain a plea by the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) seeking direction to the Election Commission (EC) to count votes through paper trail attached to the EVMs in 20 per cent of the polling booths in Gujarat.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said: “We can’t substitute the decision of the Election Commission unless you demonstrate that the poll panel’s decision is either arbitrary or not in accordance with the law.”
Senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi appearing for petitioner GPCC Secretary Mohammed Arif Rajput said that even the EC had some apprehensions, but it provided for counting through paper trail only at one booth, which made it 0.00001 per cent of the 50,000 polling booths where voting took place.
Permitting the petitioner to withdraw the plea, the court asked him to move a substantive petition directly to the apex court seeking electoral reforms with regard to Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT).
Singhvi said: “I had occasion to appear today (Friday) and there was a very sympathetic and a very elaborate hearing by the Supreme Court.”
“Ultimately, the Supreme Court gave us full liberty to withdraw the petition and equally in the order reflected full liberty to file a fresh petition. A comprehensive fresh petition, raising all issues relating to electronic voting machines (EVMs) and VVPATs,” he added.
He also said the grievance projected in the proceeding was appreciated by the court very sympathetically.
“On the one hand, the Election Commission has rightly recognised that the apprehension that EVMs require that there should be some percentage sample of EVMs where the paper trail is matched with the electronic results,” he said.
“However, having recognised that need, having recognised that legitimate apprehension, the Election Commission has actually negated it, has rendered it illusory, has rendered it meaningless and has rendered it non-effective,” he added.
Singhvi said this was their argument in the Supreme Court, because the EC has said that only one booth in the entire Assembly constituency needed a random check.
He said: “Now, if there are 250 to 400 booths on an average in a constituency, then one booth is illusory, meaningless and non-effective concept.”
“It is because of our campaign that the government was forced to assure that they would release Rs 3,000-4,000 crore required for having a VVPAT with every machine. This is virtually the first election of this scale where every machine has a VVPAT.
“We, therefore, believe that it would have been in the fitness of things to have a 25 per cent, 20 per cent or 15 per cent sample check where matching is automatically done. We are very shortly going to represent and then file a fresh comprehensive petition,” he added.