The Supreme Court on Friday declined to pass interim directions to the Election Commission to publicly release the booth-wise absolute number of voters amid the Lok Sabha elections, Live Law reported.

The court orally observed that a “hands-off" approach was needed while the election process was underway.

A vacation bench of Justices Dipankar Dutta and SC Sharma also noted that the interim relief raised in the petition was the same as those raised in the main plea pending before the Supreme Court since 2019.

“The grant of relief in the interim application would amount to the grant of final relief,” said the bench. “Relist the application together with the writ petitions before the appropriate bench after vacations.”

Justice Datta also clarified that the court had only verbally observed why it could not grant the interim prayer and had not dismissed the petition.

The court was hearing an interim petition by the non-governmental organisation Association for Democratic Reforms in a plea filed by it in 2019.

The organisation was seeking directions to the Election Commission to immediately release data from Form 17C, which contains a record of votes recorded in an Electronic Voting Machine. The plea was filed as there was a delay in publishing this data after the first two phases of polling.

The plea demanded that the poll panel 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.

‘No legal mandate to provide data’, says Election Commission

On Wednesday, the Election Commission told the Supreme Court that it has no legal mandate to publish 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 poll regulator said 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,” said an affidavit filed by the Election Commission.

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.

The Election Commission said 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.

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