The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear a plea the next day seeking directions to verify the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail, or VVPAT, slips of Electronic Voting Machine before the votes are counted, reported Bar and Bench.
VVPAT is a machine that prints a paper slip of the candidate’s name, serial number and the party’s symbol after a voter has cast his vote. To avoid election fraud, it also displays the paper slip for seven seconds for the voters to check if their vote has actually been cast for their chosen candidate.
The paper slip then drops down to a locked compartment that only the polling agent can access. A polling agent is appointed by candidates to observe voting. The passes to these agents are issued by the returning officers.
The petition filed by Right to Information activist Rakesh Kumar was mentioned by Senior Advocate Meenakshi Arora before Chief Justice of India NV Ramana for urgent listing on Wednesday. The counting of votes in five states – Goa, Manipur, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punaj – is scheduled to take place on Thursday.
Arora argued that the VVPAT slips were currently being verified only after the counting of votes. She said this makes the exercise moot.
“Verification of VVPAT is after counting is over and by that time all election agents have left, so there is no transparency,” the advocate submitted. “Verification should be first [before the counting] when there are agents, parties, candidates etc.”
Ramana then asked why the petitioner has approached the court two days before the counting of votes.
“If you come at the last minute, how can we help?” he said, reported Live Law. “The counting is day after tomorrow. Even if we hear this tomorrow, can we issue such a direction?”
Arora said that the Election Commission of India could be made a party in the case. The Supreme Court agreed to the suggestion and directed the poll panel to be present for Wednesday’s hearing.
“Let us see what can be done,” the chief justice said.
Currently, five booths are randomly selected in a constituency for verification, according to the Supreme Court’s order in a 2019 case. The petitioner has sought to increase this number to 25 or a figure proportional to the Assembly segment.
The 2019 court order was passed on a petition filed by Opposition parties who had sought direction to verify at least 50% of the votes cast in the Lok Sabha elections using the VVPAT machines.
Opposition parties have raised doubts about the credibility of electronic voting machines a number of times in the last two years. However, the Election Commission repeatedly denied allegations that the machines can be tampered with.
In its order, the court had said the practice to verify VVPAT machines will ensure the “greatest degree of accuracy, satisfaction” in the election process.