Suchitra Kalyan Mohanty

The top court said it wanted to know and understand the entire process of EVMs and VVPATS so that if there are any loopholes or tampering, then it can be corrected.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Election Commission of India (ECI) to explain to it the entire process of voting and counting through EVMs, after hearing a batch of pleas seeking 100% cross verification of EVM votes with VVPAT (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trails) slips.

A two-judge bench of the top court, led by Justice Sanjiv Khanna and also comprising Justice Dipankar Datta, asked the ECI to file its response after hearing a number of pleas, including that of NGO Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR). It posted the matter for further hearing to April 18.

At the outset of the hearing, the lawyer for ADR, Prashant Bhushan, told the SC that some European countries that had opted for voting through EVMs have returned to paper ballots.

Bhushan insisted for certain measures including going back to the paper ballot system, or seeking a direction to allow the voter to physically take the VVPAT slip, deposit it in the ballot box and count the slips. "If there is a mismatch between VVPAT and EVM, only then let VVPAT count prevail in that polling station," he suggested.

The apex court, however, rejected his arguments for a return to paper ballots, saying, "We are in our 60s. We all know what happened when there were ballot papers, you may have forgotten, but we have not.”

Bhushan gave the example of Germany, to which the bench objected and asked him what was the population of the country. He replied that it is around five-six crore.

Justice Datta then highlighted that his home state West Bengal has a bigger population than Germany. "We need to have some kind of trust and faith on somebody. Do not try to bring down the system like this," Justice Datta told Bhushan.

The bench also clarified that human intervention in the polling and counting process could lead to further problems and biases.

Senior lawyers Huzefa Ahmadi, Anand Grover, S Paul and Sanjay Hegde, for some petitioners, said that it was very important to ensure free and fair elections and a few days delay involved in VVPAT verification is a smaller price to pay. Santhosh Paul urged that there should be at least 50% VVPAT verification.

The top court on Tuesday said it wanted to know and understand the entire process of EVMs and VVPATS so that if there are any loopholes or tampering, then it can be corrected.

During the course of the hearing, the apex court also asked some questions to the ECI including whether CCTV cameras are installed at all polling booths.

The ECI official present through video conferencing told the bench that CCTV cameras are installed in 50 percent of polling booths.

The court also asked whether there is any law providing for punishment of officials and authorities for manipulating EVMs and said that unless there is fear of stringent punishment, there is always a possibility of manipulation.

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