The Supreme Court Thursday rejected a plea to order use of ballot papers in place of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in the upcoming elections. “Having heard learned counsel for the petitioners and upon perusing the relevant material, we are not inclined to entertain the writ petition. The same is, accordingly, dismissed,” a bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices K M Joseph and M R Shah ordered.
The petition, filed by Delhi-based society Nyaya Bhoomi, referred to news reports about 17 political parties passing a resolution requesting the Election Commission to use ballot papers for the 2019 general elections. It said: “In wake of widespread controversy and distrust against the EVMs among the voters (and the resolution by 17 parties), the legitimacy of the elected officials in the eyes of the public through EVM is hard to establish.”
It added that “skeptical, untrusting observers should be able to see that election results are accurate” and that “it is not sufficient for election results to be accurate, the public must believe that the results are accurate and as per their mandate given to form the government. Civil society is damaged if elections are not credible even in the absence of demonstrable fraud.”
Appearing for the petitioner, Advocate A D N Rao said there had been doubts raised on the working of EVMs.
Putting the lid on allegations, finally
The Supreme Court’s rejection of a petition seeking the use of ballot papers should close the recurrent debate over the integrity of Electronic Voting Machines. The Election Commission has jumped through hoops to dispel scepticism about EVMs. Almost every political party has questioned the machines at some point — yet, last year, when the Commission threw an open challenge to them to prove allegations of tampering, no one came forward. The EC is currently working towards linking every single EVM with a VVPAT machine. In other words, there will be a printout for every vote that is cast.
“So you want us to order that ballot papers and not EVMs should be used in the upcoming elections in the five states and the next Parliament election?”, asked the CJI.
“Yes,” replied Rao.
The bench pointed out that there were earlier orders of the court regarding use of EVMs in elections.
Added the CJI, “So you say ballot papers are good?”
As the counsel replied in the affirmative, the CJI observed, “You are totally mistaken”. He added, “Every machine is capable of use and misuse. Depends on who is using them”.
Hearing a plea by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, the apex court had in October 2013 permitted phased introduction of the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) in EVMs for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, saying it was an indispensable requirement for free, fair and transparent polls to restore the confidence of the voters.
The petition said that Section 61A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, provides for giving and recording of votes by voting machines in such manner as may be prescribed and that EC may adopt this in such constituency or constituencies as it deems fit, “having regard to the circumstances of each case.”
The plea said that “the power conferred is specific one empowering the Election Commission to issue such direction which is subject to judicial review under Article 226 or Article 32 of the Constitution of India as the case may be, if the said power is misused or arbitrarily exercised by the Election Commission.”
It added that “applying EVMs in the entire country takes away the supervision and control and exercise of writ jurisdiction by the High Court or Supreme Court,” and “thereby negates the judicial power of the Courts which is the basic structure of the Constitution”.
The controversy around the use of EVMs erupted immediately after the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur in early 2017. The BSP was among the first to allege that the voting machines had been tampered with. Parties like AAP and Congress too joined in.
Since then, the EC has taken steps to allay fears of tampering. In June 2017, it threw a challenge to all parties to prove their allegations, but no one came forward. The next set of state elections last year, in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, were completely covered with VVPAT units, and the EC has promised to hold all future elections this way.