Source: 
CNBC TV18
https://www.cnbctv18.com/india/politics/the-election-commission-voter-turnout-data-the-concerns-and-a-court-case-form-17c-19416568.htm
Author: 
Sunthar Rajagopal
Date: 
24.05.2024
City: 

The Association for Democratic Reforms - an NGO founded in 1999 by 11 Professors, 10 of whom were then teaching in IIM-Ahmedabad & 1 in ICRIER, New Delhi – has moved the Supreme Court to force the Election Commission of India (ECI), to publish the absolute number of votes polled in a booth. This case is likely to be heard on May 24.

Multiple opposition leaders have called on India’s election officials to release the data on the absolute number of votes polled in a booth to the public at large, as it was done during the 2019 elections.

The Association for Democratic Reforms - an NGO founded in 1999 by 11 Professors, 10 of whom were then teaching in IIM-Ahmedabad & 1 in ICRIER, New Delhi – has moved the Supreme Court to force the Election Commission of India (ECI), to publish this data. This case is likely to be heard on May 24.

This data is recorded in a form at each polling booth called “Form 17C.” Under the law, a Presiding Officer is mandated to furnish a copy of the entries made in this “Form 17C” to polling agents of candidates at each polling booth when voting concludes for the day.

What does Form 17C contain & Why is it significant?

- Identification numbers of the EVMs used
- Total number of electors assigned to the booth
- Total number of voters as entered in the register
- Votes recorded per EVM
- Number of people who were not allowed to vote
- Number of test votes

Data from “Form 17C” is used by candidates to match with the EVM count. If there are any discrepancies, candidates can initiate legal action.

The Election Commission’s Response

The ECI is facing questions for not releasing this Form 17C in the public domain. In response to the Supreme Court, after the Association for Democratic Reforms filed its petition, ECI asserted it is under no “legal mandate” to release this data to the public.

In a 255-page affidavit, ECI said, “There is no legal mandate to provide the Form 17C [account of votes recorded] to any other person other than the candidate or his agent.”

So as things stand, all candidates get “Form 47C” data from the Election Commission soon after polling ends. In fact, Trinamool Congress candidate Mahua Moitra taunted the ECI on social media platform X, by publishing the data provided to her and asking why the ECI was unable to do the same across all booths that went to polls until Phase 4.

Questions over delay in releasing voter turnout Data

Final data for the first phase of polling, which concluded on April 19 and April 26 was released by the ECI on April 30.

Phase-1 Voting % Released By ECI
April 19 (Provisional) 60%
April 30 (Final) 66.14%
Phase-2 Voting % Released By ECI
April 19 (Provisional) 60.96%
April 30 (Final) 66.71%

Association for Democratic Reforms has raised questions over the discrepancy of nearly 5 percentage points in the final turnout figure as opposed to the initial data released on polling day.

Former Chief Election Commissioner SY Qureshi, in an interview to Dainik Bhaskar, said that there should be no reasons for delay in the voter turnout data as it is available in real time. “Within five minutes of the polling ending, all information is available. Now, in this situation, the Election Commission is accountable for why so much time is being taken to finalise the data,” he said.

The Election Commission’s Response

In its 225-page affidavit filed before the Supreme Court, the ECI argued “The legal regime with regard to Form 17C is peculiar that while it authorises the polling agent at the close of the poll to get a copy of Form 17C, a general disclosure of the nature as sought by the petitioner is not provided in the statutory framework,” asserting that there is no legal mandate to release this data in the public domain.

The EC also raises fears that a wholesome disclosure of the data could make it amenable to mischief and could lead to images being morphed. “It is submitted that a wholesome disclosure of Form 17C is amenable to mischief and vitiation of entire electoral space. At the moment, the original Form 17C is only available in the Strong Room and a copy only with the polling agents whose signature it bears. Therefore, there is a one-to one relationship between each Form 17C and its possessor. It is submitted that indiscriminate disclosure, public posting on the website increases the possibility of the images being morphed, including the counting results which then can create widespread public discomfort and mistrust in the entire electoral processes,” EC said in the affidavit.

The Election Commission of India also attacked the NGO, Association for Democratic Reforms, the petitioner in this case. It argued in the affidavit “certain elements with vested interests who keep on throwing baseless and false allegations, creating an unwarranted atmosphere of suspicion – in the close proximity of time of conduct of every election by the Election Commission of India, to somehow discredit the same. It is most humbly submitted that there is a consistent malafide campaign/design/efforts to keep on raising suspicion and doubt in every possible manner and by misleading assertions and baseless.”

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