Ashmit Kumar

After a two-hour hearing of the VVPAT pleas, the Supreme Court bench, comprising justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta, adjourned the case to April 18.

The Supreme Court, on Tuesday, April 16, deliberated on a series of petitions regarding the comprehensive verification of votes using the Voter-Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system. Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta presided over the bench.

The court addressed a batch of petitions seeking the cross-verification of votes cast with the VVPAT system, an independent mechanism allowing voters to confirm the accuracy of their vote. It produces a paper slip visible to the voter, stored in a sealed cover for potential disputes.

During the hearing, Justice Sanjiv Khanna remarked on the historical context, stating, "We are in our 60s. We all know what happened when there were ballot papers, you may have, but we have not forgotten." This observation highlighted concerns regarding potential vulnerabilities in the electoral process.

Justice Khanna commented on the fact that the VVPAT box went from transparent to fleetingly transparent, suggesting paper ballots may be a better option. "We can go back to paper ballots. Another option is to give VVPAT slip to the voters in hand. Otherwise, the slip falls into the machine and the slip can be then given to the voter and it can be put into the ballot box. Then the VVPAT design was changed, it had to be transparent glass, but it was changed to dark opaque mirror glass where it is only visible when the light is on for seven seconds," he said.

He also saw a window for manipulation. "Normally, human intervention is going to create problems. Then questions regarding human weaknesses, including bias, will arise. The machine normally, without any wrong human intervention, will work properly and will give accurate results. Yes, a problem arises when there is human intervention to make manipulations or unauthorised changes. That premise, if you want to argue on that, do,” the judge said.

During the hearing, Justice Khanna highlighted the inherent challenges of manual vote counting, stating, "When you do hand counting, there will be different numbers counting."

Further, the bench expressed doubts regarding the practicality of physically counting votes, especially given India's vast population. Justice Datta emphasised the need to maintain trust in the electoral system, stating, "My home state West Bengal has more population than Germany. We need to repose some trust and faith on somebody. Do not try to bring down the system like this."

After an extensive two-hour discussion, the bench, comprising justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta, adjourned the hearing to April 18 for further deliberation.

The seven-phase Lok Sabha polls will begin on April 19.

The top court had said on April 3 it would hear the plea filed by NGO Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) next week along with other matters, after advocate Prashant Bhushan sought an urgent hearing.

On April 1, the top court had sought responses from the Election Commission and the Centre on a plea by activist Arun Kumar Agrawal seeking a complete count of VVPAT slips in polls as opposed to the current practice of tallying slips from only five randomly selected EVMs from each Assembly segment comprising a parliamentary constituency.

The ADR has sought the court's direction to the poll panel and the Centre to ensure the voters are able to verify through VVPATs that their vote has been "counted as recorded.” The petition has sought matching the count in EVMs with votes that have been verifiably "recorded as cast" and to ensure that the voter is able to verify through VVPAT slip that his vote, as recorded on the paper slip, has been counted as recorded v.

The plea said the need for voters to verify that their votes have been "recorded as cast" is somewhat met when the VVPAT slip is displayed for about seven seconds after pressing the button on the EVM through a transparent window.

"However, there is a complete vacuum in law as the ECI has provided no procedure for the voter to verify that her vote has been counted as recorded, which is an indispensable part of voter verifiability. The failure of the ECI to provide for the same is in the teeth of purport and object of the directions issued by this Court in Subramanian Swamy versus Election Commission of India (2013 verdict)," the plea said.

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