The Supreme Court on Friday rejected all pleas seeking the tallying of all Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail slips to verify votes cast through Electronic Voting Machines, reported The Indian Express.

A division bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta pronounced the verdict after it had convened a hearing on Wednesday with questions for the Election Commission. It had reserved the judgement on April 18.

“One suggestion which can be examined by the Election Commission of India would be whether there can be electronic machines for counting paper slips and whether there can be a bar code along with the symbols as regards which party,” the court said on Friday.

A Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail is a machine that prints a paper slip of the candidate’s name, serial number and the party’s symbol after people have cast their vote. To avoid election fraud, it displays the paper slip for seven seconds for people to check if their vote has been cast correctly.

The paper slip then drops down to a locked compartment that only the polling agent can access. The slips are not handed over to the voters. The collected slips can be used to audit voting data stored electronically.

Senior Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioners, said that the court also said that the “symbol loading unit which loads the symbol constituency by constituency should be sealed and kept available for at least 45 days after the election” PTI reported.

The Supreme Court also said that candidates who come second or third can seek to examine the burnt memory of the Electronic Voting Machine, Bhushan said. “A technical expert team of the Election Commission will have to examine that, but the cost of that will have to be paid by the candidate,” he added.

The petitioners had sought a return to the ballot paper system of voting or 100% verification of the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail slips as they cited reports where Electronic Voting Machines malfunctioned.

After a 2019 Supreme Court order, Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail slips from only five randomly selected polling stations in each Assembly segment are verified.

On Wednesday, the court had observed verbally that the microcontrollers in the Electronic Voting Machines and the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail are “agnostic” as they do not recognise a party or the candidate’s name.

Following the Supreme Court’s verdict, Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed at a rally in Bihar’s Araria constituency that the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal alliance in the state did not care about the Constitution or about democracy.

“These are the people who, for decades, snatched the rights of the people under the guise of ballot paper,” Modi alleged. “The people of Bihar witnessed how ballots were looted during the RJD-Congress regime, and the poor were not allowed to vote.”

Modi said: “Now, when the poor, the honest voters of the country, have got the power of EVM, these people [Opposition] cannot tolerate it. Every leader of the INDI alliance has sinned creating doubt in the minds of the people regarding EVM.”

“Today, the Supreme Court has delivered a resounding slap to them [Opposition],” the prime minister added, referring to the court’s verdict on Friday.

The Congress on Friday said that while it was not directly or indirectly related to the petition in the court, the party had taken note of the verdict. “Our political campaign on the greater use of VVPATs to increase public trust in the electoral process will continue,” party leader Jairam Ramesh said in a social media post.