The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to hear a plea seeking directions to the Election Commission verify the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail, or VVPAT, slips of Electronic Voting Machine before the votes are counted, reported The Indian Express.
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 also sought to increase the number of booths randomly selected for VVPAT verification from five to 25 or a figure proportional to the Assembly segment. The current figure of five is based on a 2019 Supreme Court order.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Senior advocate Maninder Singh, appearing for the Election Commission, submitted that the poll panel was following the 2019 order on VVPAT verification. Singh said the Election Commission officials have been trained in accordance to the 2019 order.
He added that no change could be done now as counting teams have already been deployed to Goa, Manipur, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab, where Assembly elections were held, reported the Hindustan Times. The counting of votes will take place in these five states on Thursday.
The court had initially agreed on Tuesday to hear the petition the next day. However, it changed its decision after the Election Commission’s submission.
“We are not interfering, let counting go on as per established practice, procedures and law,” the court said. “They [Election Commission] are following judgment. They have made a statement.”
A bench of Chief Justice NV Ramana and Justices AS Bopanna and Hima Kohli, however, said it will consider the petition later.
“For this, we need not hear tomorrow [Wednesday],” it said. “We can consider it some other day.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Senior Advocate Meenakshi Arora, appearing for Right to Information activist Rakesh Kumar, had told Ramana that VVPAT slips were currently being verified only after the counting of votes. She said this makes the exercise moot.
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. “The counting is day after tomorrow. Even if we hear this tomorrow, can we issue such a direction?”
2019 Supreme Court order
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.