Defending the provision for prosecution of a voter for lodging a false complaint regarding malfunctioning of an EVM or VVPAT unit, the Election Commission (EC), in its submission to the Supreme Court, has argued that its removal could make “the entire (poll) process vulnerable to abuse”.
The Commission’s affidavit was submitted last week in response to a plea seeking setting aside of Rule 49MA of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961.
The above rule provides for a procedure to lodge a complaint in case a voter notices a mismatch between the vote cast on the EVM and the paper slip generated by the VVPAT unit.
Under Rule 49MA, the Presiding Officer permits the complainant to cast a test vote for verification. If the voter fails to prove the mismatch, the poll officials can initiate action under Section 177 of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with giving false submission. A person can be punished with a jail term up to six months, or fine to the tune of Rs 1,000 or both.
The provision was hotly debated during recently-concluded Lok Sabha elections when retired Assam DGP Harekrishna Deka, who after finding the discrepancy in the VVPAT did not complain, as falsity of such complaint would have led to his imprisonment and heavy fine.
The plea by petitioner Sunil Ahya in the Supreme Court contends that Rule 49MA deters people from complaining and hence, the rule infringes upon a citizen’s right to freedom of expression.
Defending the rule, the Commission has stated in its affidavit that the motive behind introduction of Rule 49MA was to ensure that “voting is not disrupted on false pretexts which could make the entire process vulnerable to abuse and creates hurdles in the smooth functioning of elections”.
“It is the constitutional obligation of the Answering Respondent (the EC) to conduct free and fair elections in a manner that enables the exercise of franchise by each eligible citizen. The disruption of this process by making of false complaints under Rule 49MA is certain to compromise the purity of the entire process and cause hardship to other voters. Repeated disruption of the voting process strike at the root of free and fair elections,” states EC’s affidavit.