Source: 
Tribune India
https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/india/there-is-neither-delay-nor-difference-in-percentage-of-voter-turnout-data-ec-tells-supreme-court-623845
Author: 
Satya Prakash
Date: 
22.05.2024
City: 
New Delhi

Poll panel laments that continuous attempts are being made to create doubts about the electoral process

Lamenting that continuous attempts were being made to create doubts about the electoral process, the Election commission on Wednesday urged the Supreme Court to dismiss an application filed by Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) seeking voter turnout data under Form 17C as “such attempts demotivate voters”.

Responding to ADR’s plea seeking a direction to it to upload polling station-wise voter turnout data on its website within 48 hours of conclusion of polling for each phase of the Lok Sabha election, the poll panel asserted that “there is neither delay nor difference in percentage of voter turnout data, more than what is inbuilt into the process, scale and magnitude in play”.

On May 10, ADR had filed an interim application in its 2019 PIL seeking directions to the poll panel that "scanned legible copies of Form 17C Part-I (Account of Votes Recorded)" of all polling stations be uploaded immediately after the polls.

However, in an affidavit filed in the top court, the EC said, “There is no legal mandate to provide Form 17 to any person other than the candidate or his agent. The petitioner is trying to create an entitlement when none exists in the law by way of filing an application in the middle of the election period.”

The poll panel said that voter turnout disclosures are made through statutory, that is, Form 17 furnished to candidates or his agents and non-statutory methods such as its voter turnout app, website and press releases which are continuously updated at an interval of two hours on polling day – the last being at 11.45 hours after waiting for the maximum number of parties to return.

It said, “Next day scrutiny of polling station level records is conducted before candidates. Voter turnout App continuously keeps reflecting data on live basis. On the other hand, Form 17-C is given to agents of candidates after the close of poll on polling day itself as per the statutory requirement and the information in Form 17-C gets set in stone.”

The petition was based on “baseless suspicion” and the petitioner had not approached the court with clean hands, it submitted.

Contending that the reliefs sought by ADR amounted to interference in the electoral process, the EC submitted that the ADR’s application was not maintainable in view of express bar under Article 329(b) of the Constitution against any judicial interference in the electoral process from the date of issue of notification of election till the date of declaration of results.

In a special sitting at 6.30 pm, a Bench led by CJI DY Chandrachud had on May 17 asked the Election Commission to respond within a week to ADR’s plea and ordered listing it for hearing before an appropriate bench during the summer vacation on May 24.

Inordinate delay in the release of final voter turnout data, coupled with the unusually high revision of over 5 per cent in the poll panel’s press note of April 30, 2024 has raised concerns and public suspicion regarding the correctness of the said data, the ADR had said in an interim application filed in its 2019 PIL that sought directions to EC to immediately upload after polling “scanned legible copies of Form 17C Part-I (Account of Votes Recorded)” of all polling stations.

The NGO said it wanted to ensure that the democratic process was not subverted by electoral irregularities.

“The voter turn-out data for the first two phases of the ongoing 2024 Lok Sabha elections published by ECI on April 30 has been published after 11 days of the first phase of polling held on April 19 and four days after second phase of polling held on April 26. The data as published by the ECI in its press release dated April 30, 2024 shows a sharp increase (by about 5-6%) as compared to the initial percentages announced by ECI as of 7 pm on the day of polling,” it had submitted.

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