The Election Commission on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that it has no legal mandate to publicise Form 17C, which contains a record of votes recorded in an Electronic Voting Machine, and that the document could only be given to candidates or their agents.

The court was hearing a petition by non-governmental organisation Association for Democratic Reforms, seeking that the Election Commission be directed to immediately release absolute voter turnout numbers. The plea was filed after there was a delay in publishing this data after the first two phases of polling.

The plea has demanded that the poll panel should disclose authenticated records of voter turnout by uploading scanned legible copies of Form 17C of all polling stations after each phase of polling in the General Elections 2024 on the Election Commission’s website.

However, on Wednesday the poll regulator said that there is no legal mandate to provide the Form 17C to any person other than the candidate or his agent.

Lawyer Mehmood Pracha, who contested the Lok Sabha elections as an independent candidate from Uttar Pradesh’s Rampur seat, also moved the top court after the returning officer in his constituency refused to provide him with Form 17C. Polling was held in Rampur on April 19.

On Wednesday, the Election Commission said in its response that disclosure of Form 17C may lead to confusion regarding total votes among the electorate. It argued that the form would not include votes cast through postal ballots, although the votes would be counted to calculate the total figure.

“However, such difference may not be easily understood by the voters and may be used by persons with motivated interests to cast aspersion on the whole electoral process cause chaos in the election machinery which is already in motion,” the affidavit filed by the Election Commission said.

It also told the court that its staff is already involved in poll-related work, which concludes by depositing all the vital physical election materials including forms, envelopes, seals and Electronic Voting Machines, as a complete priority.

“If an additional responsibility and wherewithal is to be created to scan any Form, before going to the strong Room, the statutory priority would be at risk,” the poll regulator argued. “The load for the non-statutory and facilitative work that can be placed on the polling parties or at the RO [returning officer] Reception Centre, has to be carefully judged on both the grounds of legal impermissibility and practical undesirability.”

The poll regulator also added that the petitioner had failed to appreciate that the publication of voter turnout data on its app was merely facilitative.

It said that the Association for Democratic Reforms had ignored the disclaimer that figures in the “non-statutory” Voter Turnout App were secondary and provisional data.

The Election Commission said that it issues two press releases on polling days, including one at 11.45 pm that takes into account the time taken for most polling parties to return.

On the following day, the records are scrutinised in the presence of candidates and the Voter Turnout app reflects the data in real time. The information in Part-II Form 17C, of the total votes recorded, is set in stone. The Part-II of Form 17C is filled on counting day and includes the number of votes counted.

The Election Commission also alleged that the Association for Democratic Reforms’ plea was part of a “consistent mala fide campaign to raise doubts against the EC [Election Commission] in every possible way by voicing misleading allegations”.