The Supreme Court on Monday issued a notice to the Election Commission and the Centre after a petition said that criminal action should not be taken against voters whose complaints about faults in electronic voting machines are found false, Bar and Bench reported.

Such action may “deter an elector from reporting any deviant behaviour and lodging a complaint, which is an essential ingredient in a continuous exercise for improving a process”, the petition said. “This may also create an illusion of free and fair elections, whereas the fact would be that people have simply not come forward to lodge complaints,” it said.

Rule 49MA of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, provides the procedure for the reporting of faulty behaviour of EVMs and Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail. If the complaint is verified, further use of that machine will be stopped, but if found false, the voter is liable to be punished under Section 177 of the Indian Penal Code, which provides for jail upto six months and/or a penalty of Rs 1,000 for giving false information to a public servant.

The provision has been invoked thrice so far, according to The Times of India. A voter in Thiruvananthapuram was booked on April 23 during the third phase of voting in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections.

The plea said that “in the interest of justice and fairness, in the event of an arbitrary deviant behaviour of the machines used in the election process, the onus should not be cast upon the elector”.