Source: 
Live Law
https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/supreme-court-election-commission-voter-turnout-percentage-form-17c-adr-258231
Author: 
Anmol Kaur Bawa
Date: 
17.05.2024
City: 

The Supreme Court on Friday (May 17) gave one week time to the Election Commission of India(ECI) to file its response to an application seeking directions to the ECI to upload on its website the scanned copies of Form 17-C (which records the number of votes polled in a booth) soon after the elections.

The application, jointly filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms and Common Cause, also seek a direction that the ECI should disclose the absolute numbers of the voter turnout immediately after each phase of Lok Sabha elections.

A bench comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Justice JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra directed the listing of the matter on May 24 before the vacation bench. Though the matter was not otherwise listed for today, the bench agreed to take it up after an urgent mentioning was made by the petitioner's lawyer Advocate Prashant Bhushan.

What is the difficulty in uploading Form 17? Court asks

When the matter was taken up at around 4.30 PM after finishing the board, CJI asked the ECI's counsel Advocate Amit Sharma, "Mr.Sharma what is the difficulty in ECI putting this (Form 17) on the website?"

Sharma said that the process takes time and can't be done overnight. "We get the form from every booth of the constituency."

"The polling officer of every polling booth submits Form 17C to the Returning Officer?" asked the CJI. Sharma said that it is not immediately done and takes some time and won't reach the same day. "Alright. It reaches the second day. Now why don't you upload it? We will give you reasonable time," CJI said.

Sharma said that the Returning Officer will have to go through every data so that there won't be any mismatch. He pointed out that the application was filed in a 2019 writ petition and that the same petitioner had raised questions on the EVMs. "These kind of questions when raised will have a huge impact on the new voters and the voting percentage will come down. We are doing whatever is required statutorily," Sharma said.

He stated that the Form 17C data is given to every candidate and if any candidate has any objection, they can raise it in election petitions.

CJI, referring to Rule 49S of the Conduct of Election Rules, said that Form 17C data is given to every polling agent. CJI therefore said that the Rules contemplate giving Form 17C only to the polling agent. Bhushan then referred to Rule 49V which prescribes that the Polling Officer should hand over the Form 17C to the Returning Officer.

Sharma said that the realtime voter turnout figures given by the Voter Turnout App are tentative because it is being updated on a realtime basis. So any mismatch with the App Data and Form 17C data is not material, he said.

"This is never uploaded right away by the Election Commission," CJI observedExpressing reluctance to interfere, CJI said, "For us to interfere at this stage, four phases have already taken place. And the right is really of the polling agent. Polling agent has to get the forms." Bhushan replied that in many polling booths, polling agents are not there.

"For us to direct right now to upload all this data on the internet in the midst of elections....what is the point really," CJI asked. Bhushan then said that there are concerns about the rise in the final voting percentage figures disclosed by the ECI.

"Citizens are aggrieved. Because they feel whether EVMs are being replaced. Suddenly there is a rise of 6%," Bhushan submitted.

At this point, CJI again asked Sharma, "Why don't you disclose the 17C data? What is the reservation about disclosing the 17C data?". The bench then adjourned the hearing for about an hour since the farewell ceremony of Justice AS Bopanna was about to take place.

When the matter was taken after 6 PM, Senior Advocate Maninder Singh appeared for the ECI. Singh submitted that the judgment in the EVM-VVPAT case delivered on April 26 analysed the aspects relating to Rule 49 and Form 17C. Bhushan opposed this submission saying that the specific issue raised in the present application was not a subject matter of the EVM-VVPAT case.

Background

In their application, the petitioners have stated that in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, the ECI published voter turnout data after several days. The data regarding the first phase of polling held on April 19 was published after 11 days and the second phase of polling held on April 26 was published after 4 days. Also, there was a variation of over 5% in the final voter turnout data from the initial data released on the polling day.

The application has been moved as an Interlocutory Application in the writ petition filed in 2019 alleging discrepancies in the voter turn out data regarding the 2019 General Elections.

The petitioners seek direction to the ECI to :

Immediately upload on its website scanned legible copies of Form 17C Part-I (Account of Votes Recorded)of all polling stations after close of polling of each phase in the on-going 2024 Lok Sabha elections;

Provide tabulated polling station-wise data in absolute figures of the number of votes polled as recorded in Form 17C Part- I after each phase of polling in the on-going 2024 Lok Sabha elections and also a tabulation of constituency-wise figures of voter turnout in absolute numbers in the on-going 2024 Lok Sabha election;

To upload on its website scanned legible copies of Form 17C Part- II which contains the candidate-wise Result of Counting after the compilation of results of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections;

For more details about the application, click here.

Case Details : Association for Democratic Reforms & Anr. v. Union of India | WP(C) 1382 OF 2019

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