The Supreme Court on Monday ordered the Election Commission to increase the Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) slips from one Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) per Assembly constituency to five. The Supreme Court observed that increase in VVPAT verification “would be of greater satisfaction not only of political parties but also for the entire electorate”. “This court would like to observe that neither the satisfaction of the Election Commission, which is a constitutional body, nor the system of EVMs, is being doubted,” the bench said. The bench also said that it was not questioning the accuracy of election results, but the issue was of satisfaction of the electorate. The court’s direction came on a plea by leaders of 21 opposition parties who wanted it to be hiked to 50 per cent of EVMs per Assembly constituency. The opposition parties had argued that the Election Commission was conducting VVPAT matching for less than 0.44 per cent of EVMs in the country.
During arguments before the Supreme Court on Monday, senior advocate and Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi told the court that it was “ornamental and illusory” to count less than one per cent of votes as a sample survey since it was a very small number.
Abhishek Manu Singhvi also argued that given the size of the Indian electorate, there could be allegations of tampering in some areas.
The bench led by CJI Ranjan Gogoi, however, did not accept the opposition parties’ arguments to have 33 per cent to 50 per cent votes verified.
The Election Commission had raised objection over the increase in the number of verifications, saying that it would require extensive training of a large number senior civil servants and an increase in their number for the deployment which, the EC said, would divert them from other work.
The Election Commission had also said that increase in verification would delay the election results.
The increase in the VVPAT would neither require additional manpower nor delay the results of the Lok Sabha elections, the court noted.
The bench observed that its “endeavour is to find a viable number of machines keeping in mind the infrastructure and manpower difficulties pointed out by the Election Commission”.
The court also noted that the issue before it was “to maintain the purity of the electoral process and ensure the foolproof result of the mandate expressed by the people in the upcoming general elections.”
The Commission follows a system of counting of VVPAT slips in one polling booth per assembly constituency in Vidhan Sabha elections and in one polling booth in each assembly segment for Lok Sabha polls.
Till now, the Election Commission was conducting matching of VVPAT slips for about 479 voting booths in the country. The ECI rules recommend that VVPAT verification for one booth in every assembly constituency, which is about 4,125 EVMs.
Following the SC order, votes cast in about 20,625 EVMs across the country will be verified through the paper trail.
The ECI has also issued a press statement after the SC verdict that it will “make all-out efforts to operationalise and implement the directions of Hon’ble SC with immediate effect”.